Friday, May 31, 2013

Cairo Opera House calls strike as curtain opens for "Aida".

Photo: Ayman Hafez
Can you imagine... what if you went to the Met Opera (Or LA, Houston, San Francisco, San Diego...) planning to see Verdi's Aida but, when the curtain rose, the stage was filled with 300 musicians, singers, dancers - all dressed in their costumes - holding protest signs.

What's more: can you imagine how our operatic elite would react? I mean, I can't.

Well Ladies and Gents, that is exactly what happened at the Cairo Opera House this week following the firing of opera house head Ines Abdel-Dayem by the new culture minister, Alaa Abdel-Aziz. Needless to say, people were not pleased.

Abdel-Dayem is the third in a series of firings of senior officials by the new minister of culture since he took office three weeks ago, after Ahmed Mujahid, head of the Egyptian General Book Authority, and Salah El-Meligy, head of the Fine Arts Sector, were given the ol' heave-ho.

AhramOnline reports:
A rumour that Abdel-Dayem would be dismissed surfaced several days ago, and was met with a small-scale protest by artists. On several occasions in recent days the minister denied plans to sack Abdel-Dayem.

Following the official announcement of Abdel-Dayem’s dismissal on Tuesday morning, the minister named Reda El-Wakil, currently head of the Artistic House at the Cairo Opera House, to be her successor.

El-Wakil stated on his Facebook page: "I decline to accept the position…the entire Cairo Opera House family trusts Dr. Ines Abdel-Dayem, and wishes her success in resuming her post as head of the Cairo Opera House."

Also on Tuesday, lawmakers in the Shura Council were discussing the budget of the opera house, and recommended that it be reduced. One of the members of the Islamist-dominated Shura Council also suggested that ballet performances should be cancelled, due to the "nudity" they entail. The suggestion, however, was not given further consideration.

Abdel-Dayem told Ahram Online on Tuesday that the decision to fire her prevented her from joining the Shura Council session to defend the Opera House’s budget. Principal conductor and artistic director of the Cairo Opera Orchestra Nayer Nagui told Ahram Online that "the current budget is barely sufficient to cover the expenses of a musical season."
The protests started outside - and they were small-ish in nature. Starting outside the gate of the opera grounds, the small group of artists and supporters were reportedly chanting and holding banners reading: "the opera is a red line," "we are all Ines Abdel-Dayem," and "opera is an expression of Egyptian culture."

Again, from AhramOnline:
Shortly after 7pm, the musicians poured into the opera house, as at 8pm they were expected to perform Verdi's Aida. Smartly-dressed audience members started to fill the hall.

However, when the curtains were raised, they revealed a staged filled by over 300 musicians, singers, ballet dancers – the complete cast of Aida joined by other artists and administrative personnel – dressed in their costumes, holding protest signs instead of props.

Artists from the Cairo Opera Orchestra, Cairo Opera Company, Cairo Opera Ballet Company, Cairo Opera Choir, Acapella Choir among many others held signs condemning the minister of culture and expressing solidarity with Abdel-Dayem.

Nayer Nagui, artistic director and principal conductor of the Cairo Opera Orchestra made a statement to the audience.

"In solidarity with Dr. Ines Abdel-Dayem, head of the Cairo Opera House, and with respect for her role, we, the artists and staff of the Cairo Opera House, have decided to refrain from performing the opera
Aida tonight. This is the first step towards halting all the activities of the opera house until the removal of the culture minister, who has been making arbitrary decisions against prominent leaders in the ministry, in an attempt to change the identity of this country."
Staff and musicians have vowed to keep striking until the culture minister steps down.

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