Egyptian bass baritone Ashraf Sewailam is well known on the Egyptian operatic scene and in recent years established himself outside the country, focusing on performing on prestigious stages in the United States and elsewhere, including the New Zealand Opera, and teaching.
Now Sewailam is taking on the role of stage director for Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen (Příhody lišky Bystroušky). With conductor and music director David Štech, the opera will be performed by dell’Arte Opera Ensemble in New York City during five days between 19 and 27 August.
Sewailam told Ahram Online that, “The production is quite abstract in design, and mixes straight forward storytelling with an orchestral interlude that features abstract movement reflecting the themes of the story.”
Sewailam was born in Egypt where he also launched his career, before moving to the US. Throughout the years he kept coming back to perform in Egypt and retained a strong emotional bond with the country. Sewailam has also been an outspoken commentator on Egypt’s 2011 revolution and subsequent political developments.
In the director’s word to The Cunning Little Vixen, he comments that the work is, “A distillation of the revolutionary rebellious spirit peoples manage to find within themselves from time to time. Tonight we examine an encounter between a cyclical organic innocent world and another that is rigid, linear, greedy and power hungry. The struggle between these two worlds is truly within us, rather than with the powers to be.”
Sewailam had been working as director of opera studies at San Diego State University and so the directorial assignment in New York came rather as a surprise. “They had known me as a voice teacher through masterclasses I conducted there while being a soloist at San Diego Opera. When they asked experts in the industry for recommendations, apparently my name came up more than once,” he commented, adding that he resigned from the university.
Despite finding directing “so much harder than singing” in terms of creative powers and responsibility, “I decided to cultivate myself as a director alongside singing and embrace the freelance life even more fiercely by moving to New York and basing myself out of the Big Apple.”
Meanwhile, Sewailam is already booked up two years in advance as a singer with engagements that vary from a new opera recording and a world premiere in Denmark to The Marriage of Figaro, Il Trovatore and Magic Flute all over the country.
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