'Music can make people think differently': Egypt's soprano Fatma Said

Mary Aravanis, Monday 8 Feb 2016

Ahram Online talks to Fatma Said, Egypt's 24-year-old soprano, who has already packed many international achievements on her shoulders and is now preparing for her La Scala debut

Fatma Said
Fatma Said (Photo: Al Ahram Weekly)

Deceivingly petite, Fatma Said has a captivating voice that fills the auditoriums, reaching deeply into the listeners' hearts and minds. The 24-year-old Egyptian soprano singer has already taken the classical music world by storm, having won a multitude of awards over a brief 10-year time span. Her most recent success is winning last January the 8th Veronica Dunne International Singing Competition, Dublin, Ireland.

“I can't remember a time when I ‘discovered’ my love for music. Music has always been part of my life – singing too. Opera just came at a later stage,” Said told Ahram Online.

Like a butterfly making its way out of the cocoon, it seems as though her talent and passion had always been there – it was just a matter of time before it fully blossomed and led her to where she is today. 

It is quite evident, however, that apart from pure talent, Said also proved to be a very dedicated and hard worker from day one.

“She never took holidays,” recalled Neveen Allouba, Said’s first vocal coach and mentor and an accomplished soprano herself.

Said first went to Allouba at the age of 14 after they were introduced by one of Said’s teachers at her German school.

“I took her on right away,” said Allouba. “She was my student for five years, until she graduated from school.”

It is clear that throughout her five years of training with Allouba, ambition, discipline and determination were part of Said’s standout attributes.

“She would continue coming to me even during her summer holidays. She [even] went to master classes… she was very active. She never stopped looking for ways to grow. [Fatma is] very dedicated,” added Allouba.

During her time with Allouba, Said won several times the 'Jugend Musiziert' competition in Germany. With the support of her family, Said went on to Germany to continue her studies in music after graduating high school. She enrolled at the Hanns Eisler School of Music in Berlin, where she studied under Renate Faltin.

From that point on, Said continued to prove herself time and time again with every competition she participated in.

“I feel that every day is quite a challenge in my life. The competition is very fierce and I just wake up every morning knowing that I need to prove myself all over again, especially at the beginning of the career,” Said explained.

Though it may have been quite grueling and draining throughout the years, persistence paid off.

In 2011, Said won the second award at the 16th International Schuman Lied Contest, as well as the Grand Award at the Giulio Peroti International Opera Contest. In 2012, she won both first prize and the audience prize at the 7th Leyla Gencer Voice Competition that took place in Istanbul, Turkey.

She then decided to apply for a scholarship at the prestigious La Scala Academy in Milan, Italy. Having passed through four rounds of very competitive screenings, Said found herself in a group of 11 young talents chosen by the Academy from thousands of preliminary applicants. She is also the first Egyptian singer to be accepted in this world-renowned institution. Said completed her studies last July, and is now preparing for her first lead role in La Scala, in Mozart's Magic Flute, scheduled to premiere in September.

These accomplishments do not come easy, though.

“Training the voice is like training a sportsman. Like in sports, an opera singer has to sleep well, eat healthy food, work out and also have rest. The amount of muscles an opera singer uses to produce the sound s/he produces is simply incredible. The body has to be in complete harmony and the breath has to be in complete control. When I was in music school, yoga and body physiology were classes I had to attend,” Fatma comments.

“We never sing from our throats, we sing using our body – the diaphragm, and the power of the muscles that support our breath.”

Something that truly shines through while Said performs on stage is her passion. The emotions shown across her face, hand or arm gestures, and general body language simply captivates audiences and transports them into another world – a world that she has transported herself to as well, a world that is somewhat magical in its own way.

“I don't think that music can save the world from wars and the tragedies that are sadly happening all around the world. However, I believe that music is the only language that the whole world can understand – which makes it a great form of communication among people regardless of their age, race, language, social class, nationality or religion… so what I believe music can definitely do, is lead the way to change the world into a better one. It can make people think differently, because for me, music also means respect, tolerance, responsibility, unity, trust and leadership,” she elaborates.

When it comes to the question of what the future has in store for the young singer, only time will tell… but it does look to be quite bright.

It seems as though nothing can stand in the way of this young talent as she meets every challenge with undivided determination and pure passion… she will undoubtedly be paving a wonderful road for future generations to come, full of inspiration.

"Follow [your] dreams wherever they may take [you]. One can only be successful by doing something s/he loves,” she concludes.

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