INTERVIEW: Summer & Citadel festivals - A busy summer for Cairo Opera chairman Khaled Dagher

Ati Metwaly , Friday 21 Jul 2023

The summer weeks are busy for the Cairo Opera's new chairman Khaled Dagher, now overseeing the ongoing Summer Festival and also preparing for the upcoming Citadel Festival for Music and Singing.

Khaled Dagher


Seated in his large office at the Cairo Opera House, Dagher is buried in responsibilities linked to both festivals.

Despite the huge amount of work, however, he is comfortably in control while sharing his views on the opera's busy summer season.

The ongoing Summer Music and Singing Festival launched on 15 July in Cairo and will continue until the first weeks of August at various venues in the capital and Alexandria.

And as the summer progresses, the opera's management will finalize the programme for the upcoming Citadel Festival for Music and Singing, scheduled to take place between 17 and 31 August. 

"I have been actively involved in the organization of both, the Summer Festival and the Citadel Festival for Music and Singing, for a few years before taking the chairman position," Dagher explains to Ahram Online, pointing to his previous post as the opera's Artistic Director.

Son of the internationally-renowned musician Abdo Dagher (1936-2021) and a recognised musician, cellist and composer himself, Khaled Dagher was appointed chairman of the Cairo Opera in February 2023.

He succeeded ballet artist Magdy Saber (2018-2023), who in turn came after flautist Ines Abdel Dayem (2012-2018) before she became the culture minister (2018-2022).

"I was in charge of the programming of the Summer Festival. Our season covers the full academic year, winter weeks, etc. During summer the audience is looking forward to different programming, something close to their hearts, music they enjoy on a daily basis. The Summer Festival embraces independent bands followed by younger audiences, alongside many music genres: rock, pop, some light classical, shaabi, Sufi music, Arabic ensembles, etc. Winter months focus on the opera companies and the regular repertoire, be it symphonic, operatic, ballet, our in-house Arabic music ensembles, etc.," Dagher clarifies.

Indeed, the ongoing Summer Festival features such varied names as Medhat Saleh, Ahmed Ali El-Haggar, Nesma MahgoubHisham Kharma, the Cairo Cafe ensemble, harpist Manal Mohieddin, singers Samia Wagdy, Rehab Omar, Kenzy, Mohamed Hassan, Momen Khalil and Yasser Soliman, accompanied by the Arab music ensemble under the baton of maestro Ahmed Amer, among many others.

"The factor uniting all the performances is their high quality of presentation. For instance, not all Sufi singers represent the same artistic level; just as is the case in all other music genres. We always opt for the best representatives of each genre," Dagher stresses to Ahram Online.

"The Summer Music and Singing Festival takes place across numerous venues operating under the opera's management, most of all at its Fountain Theatre," Dagher says. He adds that restorations of some venues including the opera's main hall will make the theatre non-operational for the whole of August.

Citadel Festival for Music and Singing

Meanwhile, the Opera management started working on the programming of the Citadel Festival for Music and Singing, a unique event that attracts large audiences from all walks of life to the open-air venues at the historic citadel. In its 31st edition this year, the full programming of this important event is yet to be revealed.

The Citadel Festival was inaugurated in 1989, with the aim to bring music to people who might not go to formal concerts. Usually, the festival falls on the 10 days to two weeks between July and August. This year, the event will take place between 17 and 31 August at the historic Salaheddin Citadel, in addition to concerts at the opera's open-air theatres.

Every year, during the festival's opening ceremony, the Opera House grants prizes to Egyptian musicians.

"This is one of the most important festivals, not only in Egypt but across the Arab world. Unlike the Arab Music Festival which is a very specialised event, the Citadel festival embraces many music genres. It is an opportunity for the Egyptian audience to enjoy their evenings in beautiful location and for a very nominal ticket fee, which is set just to control the audience inflow," he mentions the approximate ticket price to be EGP 20, by far the lowest fee for a concert at any venue in Egypt. 

The festival is extremely popular across social strata, attracting whole families to the events. "Through the activities of the Citadel Festival, we have an opportunity to reach out to listeners who hardly ever attend events at Cairo Opera venues, many being closed theatres or requiring a certain dress code. At the Citadel, audiences are free to enjoy the music as they please. It is a big mix of audiences. Each performer has his/her own audience; they all meet at the Citadel," enthuses Dagher.

Since taking over at the Cairo Opera in the winter, Dagher's timetable has been fully packed with musical and operational tasks ever since.

As a renowned musician himself, he is the first chairman of the Opera with a background in Arabic music. Magdy Saber had a classical ballet education and flautist Ines Abdel-Dayem was trained in Western classical music, not to mention their predecessor Abdel Moneim Kamel, considered the father of modern Egyptian ballet.

"I am definitely a representative of Egyptian music. I graduated from the Cairo Conservatory, yet I've been interested in a variety of music genres throughout my life. I am particularly fond of crossover music genres, that incorporate many different colours and creative influences. As chairman of the opera, my priority is to promote the many gems that we have here and look for the best international contributions. I will definitely capitalize on the best artists, regardless of their popularity among the audience."

Dagher gives the example of chamber ensembles, a format that is not always preferred by the audiences, yet often represents a high musical standard. "The opera is one of the very rare platforms where those very valuable ensembles can present their work."

Dagher's plans for the upcoming season are equally ambitious. He mentions the visit of Russia's renowned Tchaikovsky Symphony Orchestra in the upcoming months, an event that will be announced soon.

The summer is busy for the opera's chairman – who must currently manage both the summer activities and laying plans for the upcoming 2023-2024 season. We look forward to the Citadel Festival and the release of the next yearly programme.

Short link: