Egyptian opera singer, actor, culture figure Hassan Kami dies at 82

Ati Metwaly, Friday 14 Dec 2018

Kami was an accomplished and active figure in Egypt's culture scene, as well as an active businessman

Hassan Kami

Egyptian actor and opera singer Hassan Kami died in Cairo on Friday at the age of 82.

A descendant of the Muhammad Ali dynasty, Kami (also spelled Kamy) was born on 2 November 1936 in Cairo and went to the Jesuit school, followed by Cairo University to study law. He joined the Cairo Conservatory right after its opening in the 1950s.

Passionate about culture in general and opera in particular, Kami, a remarkable tenor, began his singing career in 1963 when he performed in Aida at the Khedivial Opera House, which went on to burn down in 1971.

His role as Radames -- one very close to his heart -- in the famed Verdi opera was one he repeated countless times, also performing it with international opera companies.

He went on to perform in other operas in theatres across the former USSR, as well as in numerous other countries around the globe, performing in a total of 240 operas. He also served as the Cairo Opera House's artistic director in the 1990s.

His voice brought him several awards, including the third Global Award in operatic singing from Italy in 1969, then the fourth Global Award in 1973, and an award from Japan in 1976. He also received the first prize at the Olympic Music Festival in Seoul, South Korea in 1988.

Among his most important achievements in the opera world was his organisation of the biggest performance of Aida at the Pyramids in September 1987, the first time for the opera to be staged at this location. The event which saw the participation of 1,600 performers on stage built especially for the purpose which measured 4,300 square metres.

The opera was performed on eight consecutive evenings, attracting 27,000 spectators. Kami went on to say that he managed to find the funds for this particular production only by bankrupting his own company.

He nevertheless continued his journey in culture, managing or supervising many other Aida productions at the Pyramids and at Luxor's Hatshepsut Temple in the following years.

Kami has also entered the world of cinema, with one of his first appearances being in the Gonoun El-Hob (1977), a romantic drama directed by Nader Galal. His acting became more frequent in the late 1990s when he stepped back from singing.

Kami's filmography includes films such as Nasser 56 (1996), Zaki Khan (2005), Bobbos (2009), and TV series El-Gamaah (2010), among others.

Passionate about all facets of culture, Kami was an owner and manager of Cairo's L'Orientalist bookshop, a small space filled with old and rare books, maps and photographs, which became his refuge from the daily hustle and bustle.

Kami's wife, Nagwa Kami, was among the important motors of L'Orientalist. It was after her sudden passing in 2012 than Hassan began spending more time in the shop, hoping to continue her work.

In parallel with his cultural activities, Kami was active in a variety of businesses from which he drew benefits for Egypt's artistic scene. In late 1950s he worked in the Karnak Tourism Company, he served as a director of the Middle East Aviation Station at Cairo Airport from1961 to 1968, and was a chairman of Bon Voyage Tourism Company from the late 1970s. As a result, he received a prestigious certificate of appreciation from tourism and civil aviation in 1976. 

Oscillating between different art forms, fluent in English, French and Arabic, Kami remained dedicated to the arts scene until his very last days.

Just one month prior to his passing, Kami, who was also chairman of the board of the Friends of Manial Palace Association (founded in 2006 by Prince Abbas Hilmi, grandson of Abbas Hilmi II, the last Khedive of Egypt), spearheaded the first classical music festival organised in Egypt, the “Manial Palace Festival: Reviving Heritage Through Music,” which took place from 1 to 9 November.

The dates mark the 149th anniversary of the opening of the Khedivial Opera House and the 143rd anniversary of the birth of Prince Mohamed Ali Tawfik, who was born in 1875 and died in 1955.

Kami's passing leaves a huge void in Egypt's opera and cultural scene. Active on Facebook, until the last days he kept sharing his activities with the social media world, posting photos of his Christmas preparations as well as remembering his wife, whose death affected him tremendously.

His funeral will take place at Sayyeda Nefisa mosque in Cairo.

More details about the wake are to be announced.

For more arts and culture news and updates, follow Ahram Online Arts and Culture on Twitter at @AhramOnlineArts and on Facebook at Ahram Online: Arts & Culture


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