First Saudi opera singer hopes to encourage home-grown creativity

Updated 04 July 2019

First Saudi opera singer hopes to encourage home-grown creativity

JEDDAH: Sawsan Al-Bahiti is no stranger to the stage and has been charming audiences with her powerful opera performances for over a decade.

Billed as Saudi Arabia’s first professional opera singer, Al-Bahiti is also a certified voice coach at the New York Vocal Coaching Center.

The opera singer graduated from the American University of Sharjah with a bachelor’s degree in mass communication, before she fell in love with opera after taking a course in choir singing.

“I did not realize how big it would be for my future, but the passion took me and I fell in love with it,” Al-Bahiti told Arab News.

Al-Bahiti performs in five languages — English, French, German, Italian and Arabic — and revealed that “singing in Arabic seems to be easier, but it’s not. It’s my mother tongue, but because I want to apply it to (opera) it is a challenge.”

Sawsan Al-Bahiti from AN on Vimeo.

But the most difficult part of operatic singing, according to Al-Bahiti, is not related to the language of the song at hand, but rather the vocal strength it requires.

The performer showcased that strength in Riyadh on Friday, when she made her national singing debut by accompanying the Teatro alla Scala Academy’s symphony orchestra at the King Fahad Cultural Center.

The show opened with a surprise performance of the Saudi national anthem by Al-Bahiti, who received a standing ovation.

“When I performed… I was beyond proud of myself and my country. It was my first time to perform opera in Arabic in public,” she told Arab News.

But receiving public support for her craft didn’t happen overnight.

“Of course, there were the obstacles of getting the public’s acceptance as a Saudi woman and… on the other hand as an opera singer because it’s a brand new art on the scene. And of course, the cultural reservations when it comes to family and getting into the field of music has always been a taboo. But now… the family has given me a lot of support.”

She hopes that her performances will encourage other Saudi talents to come forward and share their creativity in the public sphere.

The pioneering talent shared her plans to open an institute for vocal coaching in the Kingdom, which will also offer instrumental lessons and house a theater to “create a platform for up-and-coming talents to showcase (their craft).’’


Lack of spirit leaves World War II saga hanging midway

Roland Emmerich’s just-opened “Midway” comes nowhere close to the 1950s and 1960s war adventures. (Supplied)
Updated 14 November 2019

Lack of spirit leaves World War II saga hanging midway

CHENNAI: Movies on World War II have delighted cinema audiences for years. Nobody can forget the daring Allied escape in the 1965 “Von Ryan’s Express” with Frank Sinatra and Trevor Howard driving a train through Nazi-occupied territory.

There were others in that decade and earlier such as David Lean’s “The Bridge on the River Kwai” about British prisoners of war building a railway in malaria-infested Burma (now Myanmar). These were great classics, but recent efforts have not been as memorable.

(Supplied)

Roland Emmerich’s just-opened “Midway” comes nowhere close to the 1950s and 1960s war adventures. Despite audiences still being thirsty for WWII sagas and a star-studded cast (Patrick Wilson, Woody Harrelson, Mandy Moore, Ed Skrein and Nick Jonas), the film is unmoving, mainly because of the shallow characters. If the dialogues are stiff, the dramatic potential – including the relationship among the men – appears to have been left midway.

The film begins with Japan’s December 1941 air attack on the US naval base in Pearl Harbor, Honolulu, which dragged America into the conflict, and the flick follows America’s revenge mission culminating in the June 1942 Battle of Midway.

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For the US, it was a victory against all odds giving them control of the Pacific’s Midway atoll. It was also a major triumph of human spirit, but the film does not quite capture it.

Most of the exploits relate to real-life fighter pilot Dick Best (Skrein), whose devil-may-care attitude earns him the title “cowboy.” His wife Ann (Moore), the only female character, urges him on but seems a washed-out figure. However, there is plenty of action in the air with dog fights, bombings and pilots ejecting from burning planes high above the ground.

(Supplied)

For fans of singer Jonas, his small but significant part may appeal. He is sailor Bruno Gaido whose spontaneous and heroic action during a Japanese raid earns him promotion.

“Midway” plays at three levels, including one about Japanese military officers, and was shot in Hawaii and Montreal with a lot of computer graphics thrown in. The camera work (Robby Baumgartner) is impressive, but somewhere the soul is missing, and the characters fail to come across as real people.

Despite this, the film opened atop the North American box office last weekend with a reported $17.5 million in ticket sales.