Egyptian composer Mohamed Saad Basha ‘very happy’ about premiere of his ballet Cleopatra

Ati Metwaly , Sunday 6 Oct 2019

The new ballet will be performed by the Cairo Opera Ballet Company at the Cairo Opera House later this month

(Photo: fragment from the Cairo Opera House's ballet Cleopatra promotional material)

On four consecutive evenings, from 15 to 18 October, the Cairo Opera Ballet Company and the Cairo Opera Orchestra, conducted by Mohamed Saad Basha, will stage the ballet Cleopatra. The ballet is choreographed by José Perez.

This is the first time that the Cairo Opera House has produced its own take on the famous queen, following a commission of Egyptian composer and conductor Mohamed Saad Basha earlier this year.

“I was commissioned to compose music for a new ballet, Cleopatra, by the Cairo Opera House in February,” composer Saad Basha told Ahram Online.

“Our preliminary plans were to stage the ballet in June but this was postponed to October. We all needed more time to deliver a good work. I am very happy that finally it will see the light of day.”

Saad Basha has many orchestral, chamber, choral works as well as film scores in his repertoire, but Cleopatra is the first ballet that he has composed.

In his creative career, the composer is sometimes inspired by Egyptian socio-historical themes, as is the case in his numerous chamber works, such as El-Fishawy (Coffee Shop in El-Hussain, 2002) for voice, and percussion; or Aragoz (Egyptian traditional puppet, 2004) for flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, and ney, among others.

Occasionally, Saad Basha has looked to ancient Egyptian history for inspiration, mainly at the beginning of his career: his large choral work The Throne (2000) and Rynzi (for soprano, harp, vibraphone, percussion; 1997) were both based on a text from ancient Egypt.

Cleopatra was “definitely a challenge but a very rewarding one,” Saad Basha said, highlighting the size and content of the work.

The ballet consists of two acts: the first lasts for one hour and as per musical tradition it is preceded by an overture. The first act includes 12 dances, while the second one has 13 dances and lasts 45 minutes.

The ballet has a variety of themes and characters, all of which the composer needed to express through music and its many colours.

“Throughout the whole process I remained in close contact with the Italian chorographer of the ballet, José Perez. We exchanged many ideas, discussed the script and the scenes as well as the structural aspects of the ballet that are linked to music,” Saad Basha said.

When asked about the musical classification of Cleopatra, Saad Basha hesitates for a moment and then replies: “I think it is simply Egyptian contemporary music; I am most comfortable with this name. However, I do not look for nomenclature, since I believe that everyone might see something different in it. And regardless of the classifications, to me it is most important that the audience will enjoy the ballet with its dancers and music.”

During the four performances, Saad Basha will also conduct the orchestra.

Apart from the Cairo Opera Ballet Company and the Cairo Opera Orchestra, the ballet includes also the efforts of many other artists, such as assistant choreographer René de Cárdenas, artistic director Erminia Kamel, costume designer Manuela Scerri, set designer Mohamed El Gharabawy and lighting designer Yasser Shaalan. 

The script of Cleopatra ballet was written by José Perez and Erminia Kamel. 

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