Jordan launches first opera festival

Sunday 23/07/2017
Unique talent. Jordanian soprano Zeina Barhoum, who played the lead role in “La Traviata” at the Amman Opera Festival. (Provided by Roufan Nahhas)

Amman - Jordan began its first opera festival in July, showcasing “La Traviata” by Giuseppe Verdi at the ideal venue of the Roman Amphitheatre in Amman.
The world-renowned show, part of the first Amman Opera Festival, featured 155 singers and dancers from ten nationalities, including two Jordanian sopranos in leading roles.
Organisers said they wanted to build bridges and cultural ex­change through music. “La Tra­viata” — “The Fallen Woman” — was first performed in 1853 at the Teatro La Fenice in Venice. The 2017 telling in Amman took the audience on a journey filled with true love, deep emotions, revenge, sorrow and suffering in the life of Lady Violetta, the main character who knew that her life would end soon.
“The production was the first of its kind in Jordan and the Arab world. It was staged in an open-air Roman amphitheatre filled with opera passionate,” said Zeina Bar­houm, a Jordanian soprano and founder of the festival.
Barhoum, 33, played Violetta alongside Peruvian tenor Andrés Veramendi as Alfredo, Slovak singer Simon Svitok as Germont and Jordanian tenor Ady Naber as Gastone. They were accompanied by the Sichuan Philharmonic Or­chestra featuring musicians from La Scala as well as musicians from Jordan and a choir from the Batu­mi Opera House in Georgia led by conductor Lorenzo Tazzieri.
“The festival is just the first step towards a series of cultural events which will build a base for a pas­sionate opera society in addition to planting the seeds for the opera culture that might eventually lead to the construction of an opera house in Jordan,” said Barhoum, who has performed in Italy, Dubai and Lebanon and other venues.
“Opera is an art genre for all people and what we need here is to create a community of opera fans who will enjoy and let the next generation enjoy it too,” she said.
Performances of “La Traviata” were among various cultural events in Jordan during the sum­mer. The desert kingdom record­ed a 6.8% increase in the number of tourists so far in 2017, including 350,000 visitors coming in June compared to 328,000 in the same period last year, the Jordan Cen­tral Bank said.
Tourism income rose 14.5% to approximately $2.1 billion in the first half of 2017 compared to around $1.8 billion for the same period in 2016.
Jordanian Minister of Tourism Lina Annab said that organising an opera festival enriched the cul­tural scene in Jordan, which has witnessed several events, includ­ing the Jerash Festival.
“Definitely, the festival played a big role in attracting more tourists to Jordan as there are thousands of opera enthusiasts who enjoyed watching and listening to ‘La Tra­viata’ at one of the oldest theatres in the world,” Barhoum said.
Organisers said a considerable number of visitors from the Gulf area attended the show.
“It is all about diversity and the festival had the right combination of talents from around the world who placed a lot of effort in pro­ducing one of the most famous operas in the world, ‘La Traviata,’ and made it a must-see event,” said Barhoum.
Culture critic Majdi Tell ap­plauded the introduction of an opera festival in Jordan saying: “It is a successful venture. People are appreciating such events and would like to see more of them here. The show should also be played in other cities (than Am­man).
“This event will open the way for more cultural pro­ceedings. Already, this sum­mer we have many activi­ties that appeal to the general audience.”
Barhoum start­ed her musi­cal career in 1997 and re­ceived an award for “best soloist” in the Eistedd­fod competition at a young age. Mixing the rich aspects of classical opera and Arabic and Western songs, she released her first album, “Al­cantara,” in 2014. In 2015, she performed in a concert in Dubai, accompanied by the Naples Philharmonic Orchestra, directed by Michelangelo Galeati.
“I believe my music embodies the idea of bridg­ing cultures and communicating through a com­mon universal language. Mine being the arts and spe­cifically music and performing arts,” she said.
“My aim is to continue bringing opera to Jordan and to opera lov­ers who appreciate this wonderful music.”