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'We keep pushing the wheel,' Dina Iskander on her AUC Opera Ensemble

Promoting the art of opera since its founding in 2018, the second performance of the AUC Opera Ensemble will take place early next week

Ati Metwaly , Wednesday 18 Dec 2019
AUC Opera Ensemble
AUC Opera Ensemble (Photo: from the AUC Opera Ensemble's promotional material)
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Founded by soprano Dina Iskander, an adjunct professor at the American University in Cairo (AUC), the upcoming concert by the AUC Opera Ensemble will take place on Sunday 22 December at the Malak Gabr Theatre located at the university's 5th Settlement campus.

"This is our second performance as an AUC Opera Ensemble, formed within the university's Department of the Arts, Music Program," reveals Iskander, the ensemble's vocal coach.

Outside the Department of the Arts, soprano Dina Iskander is an already accomplished opera singer, while her responsibilities within the ensemble go far beyond voice coaching. Through her work on the performances, she is in charge of the many aspects of the final production including the mise-en-scene and choice of scenography elements.

The ensemble had its first successful show in December last year and the plans include continuing its activities with performances taking place on an annual basis. 

Embracing the vocal students at the AUC, the ensemble also welcomes young talents from outside the university premises. Not limited to being just a vocal talent show, the ensemble aims to educate the students as well as the audience in the art of opera and Western classical music at large, while creating an opportunity for the students to perform solos and/or ensembles from different operas.

Though the ensemble is Iskander's brainchild and for one year now she remains its main dynamo, the soprano underscores that the students should be also credited for bringing this idea to light. In an interview with Iskander last year, when the AUC Opera Ensemble launched its inaugural performance, Iskander underscored the efforts of Karima El-Demerdasch and Ali Shourbagy, "who are very passionate about the ensemble's mission."

With the performances open to audiences and free, today, one year on, the ensemble continues to shape the opera and classical music awareness among the AUC students and audiences at large.

The upcoming performance will include numerous arias, solos, trios, and quartets from known operas. On stage we will listen to 10 voices, three of which are returning singers from last year's performance, four are new students and three joined from outside the AUC.

For Iskander, as well as for the students, last year was a great learning process, something that, as the soprano hopes, will bring better outcomes in the upcoming performance.

AUC Opera Ensemble
AUC Opera Ensemble (Photo: Dina Iskander Facebook)

"It is a great experience, all in all," Iskander tells Ahram Online. "This year I developed better ways to get things done, I learned to give responsibilities earlier on. I try to learn from previous mistakes."

"Singing and music are always there. During the 12 sessions we have for the performance preparation, I always ask the students to come well prepared. There is no time to lose. We work on voice positioning, interpretation, body language, movement, acting and many other aspects. The students have to work at home a lot," Iskander reveals, adding that with such a limited number of sessions, discipline is among the crucial components of the whole journey. "It is very challenging and at times stressful, but the efforts of all the students make the whole journey worthwhile."

Having her hands full and working on many aspects of the final performances, Iskander's dedication is truly impressive. "The students provide some valuable ideas, they contribute a lot," she says. "Many young people have the potential to make it internationally as opera singers." 

With simple scenography, the performance will have a theatrical element, even if "for now, we have to operate in a minimalistic way," she comments.

However the biggest gain of the AUC Opera Ensemble is in its mission and the many young singers it embraces. As Iskander asserts, "it is one of the rare platforms for the young people where they can explore the art of opera."

"In Egypt, we do not have many such platforms for young opera singers, neither does the audience have an opportunity to get acquainted with this art form and the many hidden talents it includes. Many people are not fully aware of the Western opera gems, the opportunities etc, while the media does not pay a lot of attention to this art."

Iskander adds that while her aim is to provide such a platform for talents, it is with them that she explores the many treasures underneath the art of opera. 

In its turn, the audience has one of the rare opportunities to get closer to the Egyptian singers and penetrate the opera art form as presented by its young, promising representatives. With more awareness and exposure initiatives, the AUC Opera Ensemble might be soon able to move beyond the university walls. As Iskander underlines, this is one of her hopes. 

"For the time being we take it one step at a time, keep pushing the wheel and hope for the best performance we can give," she concludes.

Directed by Iskander, the performance's cast and crew include singers: sopranos Farida Montasser, Noura Samy, Nouran Sharafeldin, Shorouk Ahmed Mohamed; mezzo sopranos Carol Abead, Cherine Abulwafa, Karima El Demerdash; tenors Mohamed Gaber; baritones Ahmed Elshiemy and Aly Baracat; alongside pianist Mina Hanna, costume supervisor Jeanny Arnold and costume coordinator Fady Fanous. 

The AUC Opera Ensemble's performance will take place on Sunday 22 December at 7pm, at Malak Gabr Theatre, AUC 5th Settlement campus, Cairo

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