Fatma Said – a ‘true global opera star’

Jean Claude Elias
Jean-Claude Elias is a computer engineer and a classically trained pianist and guitarist. He has been regularly writing IT articles, reviewing music albums, and covering concerts for more than 30 years. (Photo: Jordan News)
Arab opera singers who have made it to the particularly demanding and challenging international classical music scene are only a handful. Young Egyptian soprano Fatma Said, born in 1991 in Cairo, certainly belongs in this exclusive group. From performing at Milan’s celebrated Teatro alla Scala to becoming a Warner exclusive recording artist, Said has confirmed that she is a true global opera star.اضافة اعلان

I discovered Said when, last week, my sister sent me the link to a Youtube video that featured the singer joining Polish countertenor Jakub Józef Orliński in the superb, sublime motet “Laetatus sum, Rogate”, by Bohemian baroque composer Jan Dismas Zelenka. I have since found and listened to several other pieces sung by Said, but this motet remains my favorite to date. Perhaps it is because of my weakness for baroque music, but for sure because of the exceptional beauty of the two artists’ voices that blend like magic.

Also found on Youtube is Fatma Said’s duet, back in 2018, with Mexican tenor Rolando Villazón, interpreting “Papageno Papagena” from Mozart’s The Magic Flute opera at the Lucerne festival in Switzerland. Far from the serenity and majesty of the previous baroque composition, this dynamic, uplifting, and joyful piece enables Said to demonstrate her excellent stage presence: she is witty, natural, real, lively, and perfectly comfortable with the music she chooses to interpret.

After watching the above two videos on Youtube, and having had a good visual impression of the artist, I moved to Spotify, the audio streaming platform, where I was able to listen to the same music, without the image part of course, but this time in high-definition audio. It is even more elating there. All the fine details of the music, all the tonal subtlety of Said’s voice are perceptible, making the experience even more pleasant. If you like and appreciate great classical music, high-definition sound really takes you to another world.

This Egyptian artist possesses a very balanced voice, be it in the tone itself or in the way she delivers the music. Soprano is the highest range in the female voices; singing high-pitched notes while keeping the tone warm is an art that not all opera singers master. Said does, and she does it very well. Melisma, “the singing of a single syllable of text while moving between several different notes” (Wikipedia), is also particularly well handled by the singer. Her renditions are elegant and charming.

Said does not just sing duets with other singers; her debut album “El Nour” (“The Light”) brings us a wide and exquisite palette of songs and tunes. The selection also shows her refined taste and her desire to cover various styles, genres, and periods.

The album consists of pieces by French composers Maurice Ravel, Philippe Gaubert, Georges Bizet and Hector Berlioz, by Spaniards Manuel de Falla, Federico García Lorca, Jose Serrano and Fernando Obradors, as well as by Arab musicians Gamal Abdel Rahim, Najib Hankash, Sayed Darwish, Elias Rahbani and Dawood Husni.

Said excels in all the tracks of the album, from both technical and artistic points of view. It is difficult to encompass the music itself in once concept, given the wide gap between, for example, Ravel’s works on the one hand, and the adaptation of the Arabic pieces on the other. For the listener, there is a significant break of style that is not bad per se, but is not easy to follow and grasp. Perhaps there should have been a clear split among genres; perhaps the Arabic pieces should have been released in a separate album.

Ravel’s pieces, from the early 20th century, were avant-garde classical compositions. The music by the Spanish composers featured on “El Nour” is different, more lyrical maybe, but it still goes well with the French composers’ works. It is European classical music, after all. The Arabic pieces do not blend so well with the rest, mainly because the original spirit is partially lost, and also because although they all are well known and beautiful, they are not classical pieces in the first place, but popular songs.

“Aatini Al Naya Wa Ghanni” (give me the flute and sing), for instance, is less convincing than the more known versions, that of Lebanese diva Fairuz for one, as irrelevant as the comparison between the two artists may be.  But again, it is mainly because of the special orchestral arrangements made here, and not because of the soprano’s singing, which remains immaculate all the time, on all tracks.

“El Nour” is available on Spotify, Apple Music and Deezer streaming platforms, in addition to the physical CD format.

Accompanying Said on the album’s recording are Malcolm Martineau on piano, Rafael Aguirre on guitar, Burcu Karadağ on nay, Tim Allhoff on piano, Itamar Doari on percussion, Henning Sieverts on double bass, Tamer Pinarbasi on qanun, and the Vision String Quartet.

The writer is a computer engineer and a classically trained pianist and guitarist. He has been regularly writing IT articles, reviewing music albums, and covering concerts for more than 30 years.

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