On Wednesday 8 May, Cairo Opera House held a fundraising concert to assist the efforts of Egyptian NGOs supporting Syrian refugees in Egypt.
The Cairo Opera Orchestra, conducted by Nayer Nagui, was joined by soloists from Egypt and Syria along with Egypt-based Iraqi oud player Nasser Shamma.
The concert was organised under the patronage of the Arab League and the British Embassy in Egypt. Accordingly, the event was attended by Nabil El-Arabi, secretary-general of the Arab League, and British Ambassador James Watt, a classical music and opera lover who helped choose the programme for the concert.
The performance commenced with Syrian soprano Racha Rizk singing Pamina's aria "Ach, ich fühl's, es ist verschwunde" (Ah, I feel it, it has disappeared) from Mozart’s The Magic Flute. Egyptian tenor Ragaa El-Din Ahmed followed with “Una Furtiva Lagrima” (A Furtive Tear) from Donizzetti’s L’Esir d’Amore, a famous aria that is always a highlight of any concert hall.
Rizk and Ahmed closed the first half with a moving duet from Bizet's Carmen “Parle-moi de ma mère” (Tell me about my mother). The Egyptian tenor’s powerful voice captivated the audience, combining with Rizk’s heartfelt performance.
“I am taking part in this concert to help my people. It is just a simple act in the grand scheme of things,” Rizk told Ahram Online backstage during the interval.
Rizk fled Syria to Egypt nine months ago with her husband and infant daughter, and recently moved to Beirut. Rizk was head of the Opera Department at the High Institute of Music of Damascus.
The soprano painfully reflects on the war’s effect on art and culture in her country. The Damascus Opera House is still in semi-operation, Risk said, but now has much fewer performances because most of the great artists have fled the country.
“Since the war, the opera house has lost its soul. Art is so fragile; like people's lives it is the first thing to be damaged,” she explained.
The second half of the concert began with renowned Iraqi oud player Naseer Shamma who played a variety of compositions.
Ragaa-Eldin Ahmed and Rizk soon returned to the stage to perform arias from Puccini’s Turandot and Verdi’s La Traviata.
Ahmed's performance of "Nessun Dorma" (None shall sleep) from Turandot, one of the best known arias for tenors, was widely applauded.
Rizk exhibited her remarkable vocal capacity throughout her performance of La Traviata’s “Sempre Libera” (Always free).
Syrian singer Abdel-Kader Aboul-Seoud then drew in the audience with his emotional performance of the patriotic Syrian song “Baktob Esmek ya Balady” (I write your name, my country). Applause and cheers were heard from all sections of the audience in homage to the Syrian singer and his people.
“I was honoured to perform for my country and hope to take part in many more performances like this, please God,” Aboul-Seoud said with pride from the stage.
Aboul-Seoud joined Arouba Youth Institute in Aleppo to study singing and met with producer Sabry Modalil with whom he started a popular group ‘El-Roda’ 15 years ago. The Arabic singer is now unemployed since fleeing Syria to Egypt five months ago with his wife and four children. Like Rizk, Aboul-Seoud praised the warmth and kindness that Egyptians have bestowed upon his people.
The evening concluded with a magical blend of Western classical music and Oriental compositions. The orchestra performed Rossini’s overture from The Barber of Seville in collaboration Shamma on the oud.
“I like the fusion between classical and oriental; a concert for Syria required both components” explained the conductor, Nayer Nagui, who also applauded the British ambassador for arranging the apolitical event and his contribution to selecting the event's arias.
Nagui affirmed the power of music and support in uniting all people through an unspoken universal language whilst referring to the world-acclaimed conductor Daniel Barenboim.
The success of the event appeared evident judging by the conversations of attendees following the concert. This notion was reaffirmed by the conductor’s praise for the orchestra.
“I am very proud of my orchestra. Technically this was one of their best performances in the last two years,” Nagui said.
The money raised by the concert has been earmarked by the British Embassy for UNHCR Egypt which will allocate it to two Egyptians NGOs: Caritas Alexandria and Mustafa Mahmoud, which are providing medical assistance to the refugees.
“The British ambassador wanted the money to go to Egyptian NGOs that are helping Syrian refugees,” stated UNHCR press officer Eline Mekhael.
UNHCR is also working with a number of other NGOs namely: Islamic Relief, Catholic Relief services, World Food Programme (WFP) and UNICEF, Mekhael added.
According to the official press release of the British Embassy in Cairo, in Egypt there are currently more than 62,000 refugees registered and awaiting registration (1.4 million in the region). Should the current trend continue it is predicted that this number will reach 100,000 in Egypt and up to 3.5 million regionally.
The Egyptian government has played a vital role in responding to the Syrian refugee influx. Its humanitarian response involves an open door and visa-free policy for Syrian nationals, access to free education, healthcare and complimentary residency renewal. Furthermore, the Egyptian community’s hospitality towards Syrian refugees, ascribed to historical ties, has helped ease the transition for many.