Bibliotheca Alexandrina’s Don Giovanni: Fusing int'l cooperation, Egypt's educating platform

Ati Metwaly , Monday 8 May 2023

The upcoming production of Mozart's Don Giovanni to be staged at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina will bring international and Egyptian artists to the Mediterranean city, while providing many educational components.

Don Giovanni


The production of Don Giovanni which will be performed on 18, 19, and 20 May is a multi-layered project motored by Egyptian conductor Nayer Nagui. 

The crossroads of the operatic performance created at the hands of professionals and an educating platform, Don Giovanni is definitely one of the most important creative projects presented in Egypt this year.

In other words, not only are the performances a wonderful opportunity for the audiences to listen to Mozart’s masterpiece as presented by international and Egyptian singers, and a chance to feature our homegrown talents who make sparking international careers, but it is also an educating platform for young singers to develop their skills in the operatic art.

Directed by Manuel Schmitt with scenography by Bernhard Siegl, the 18 and 20 May performances will feature the professional performers, while 19 May gives stage to young Egyptian talents, Nagui said.

The professional cast includes Czech baritone Boris Prýgl in the role of Don Giovanni, Serbian-Bulgarian soprano Isidora Moles (Donna Anna), France-based Egyptian tenor Joseph Kauzman (Don Ottavio), US-based Egyptian bass-baritone Bass-Baritone Ashraf Sewailam (Commendatore), Mexican bass-baritone Antonio Azpiri (Leporello), Egyptian sopranos Dina Iskander (Donna Elvira), joined by up-and-coming Egyptian talents Christine Magdy (Zerlina), and bass Bassim Mohamed (Masetto).

The talents’ show presents Khaled Samir (Don Giovanni), Donia Deghedy (Donna Anna), Moustafa Medhat (Don Ottavio), Mohannad Moustafa (Commendatore), Maryam Gamaleldin (Donna Elvira), Marwan Diab (Leporello), Moustafa El-Herazy (Masetto), and Malak Shafei (Zerlina).

During all evenings, the Bibliotheca Alexandrina Orchestra, Bibliotheca Alexandrina Choir conducted by the orchestra’s principal conductor Nayer Nagui, will be performing. 

To better understand the story of Don Giovanni in Alexandria, we need to go back one year, to the production of Carmen. Also directed by Manuel Schmitt with scenography by Bernhard Siegl, Carmen was the first important step in Nagui’s efforts to “bring back opera to Alexandria,” the conductor explains to Ahram Online, pointing to Alexandria being once a cosmopolitan city, filled with all art genres and especially great operas.

The choice of Carmen was triggered mainly by its sheer popularity between the Egyptian audiences.

“However, Carmen is a big opera and it was almost impossible to present it with full grandiosity in the Bibliotheca. I had to rely on collaborations, thinking about people who are particularly experienced in creating a very professional yet minimalistic format of opera productions, delivering the work’s depth in unconventional ways. I immediately thought about German artists. Hence, I contacted the Goethe Institute in Alexandria. This is what led to the German director and scenographer working on Carmen, alongside Egyptian musicians and singers.”

Carmen was also a new platform for the young singers to present their skills, and as Nagui explains, “it had a strong educational component, one that reflects the Bibliotheca’s main vision.” In this production, Nagui brought professional soloists and incorporated singing students into small roles.
“The performances were a great success,” Nagui recalls, revealing that the Bibliotheca sold 2,000 tickets, besides invitations. 

“This year, it was Goethe Institute-Alexandria who suggested a repeat of this experience, and the Bibliotheca Director Dr. Ahmed Zayed welcomed the idea. However, my main challenge was to choose the opera… After all, once you stage Carmen, you cannot do anything else,” Nagui laughs.

Having given it a thought, Nagui took another angle: “Let's go with the basics, and basics mean Mozart,” he said, noting the fact that Don Giovanni is considered closest to perfection in operas, in terms of drama, music, and characters.

But while being “best of the best,” as Nagui puts it, Don Giovanni created a new challenge. “The opera revolves around eight characters only.” 

This small number of roles made it difficult for the conductor to incorporate students to small roles. It is for this reason that while the professionals will lead two performances, the additional 19 May staging relies completely on the budding singers.

“We did invite, however, more skilful singers such as Christine Magdy and Bassim Mohamed (Masetto) to join 18 and 20 May performance in smaller roles.”

Nagui underlines the international cooperation factor that contributes to this staging. Besides the German director and scenographer, the Goethe Institute contacted Siemens Arts Programme, which supported the participation of a Serbian soprano and Mexican bass-baritone. 

The collaboration with the Czech Cultural Institute, which reopened last year after a few decade hiatus, resulted in inviting baritone Boris Prýgl for the title role. 

“I already worked with Boris in Stabat Mater and I am happy that he will also sing in the upcoming Don Giovanni,” Nagui said, adding that Prýgl sung this role in more than 20 international productions.

“For many young students, it is a great educational opportunity to witness rehearsals and performances of such renowned names. It’s an important step in the journey of a new generation of Egyptian opera singers. The Cairo Opera House has a severe lack of new voices; we can build the cadre of young singers at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina,” Nagui explains.

After Carmen, and the exposure given to the Egyptian talents, working with them on Don Giovanni is obviously met with great enthusiasm and dedication. Taking their singing careers seriously, over the past months, many of them explore different avenues of improving their skills, including those at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, or take lessons with renowned Egyptian singers and vocal trainers, such as Sobhi Bidair and Hanane El Guindy.

“Of course, we staged auditions for Don Giovanni asking the young singers to prepare the full roles. ‘I have to trust you that you can make it’ I was telling them,” Nagui explains as he looks forward to their performance on 19 May. 

Equally, he is proud to work with top-notch operatic professionals who will take the stage on 18 and 20 May.

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