JEDDAH: Mohammed Al-Zahrani has faced down many challenges while pursuing his dream to be an opera singer and represent Saudi Arabia on the world stage, and his journey has led him to Italy, where he is living in Rome and learning the language.
“I have encountered many social and traditional barriers but I luckily managed to overcome those obstacles,” the 23-year-old performing artist told Arab News.
“The objection of my family, relatives and friends was a result of their unawareness about other cultures. They are very strict and conservative people who adhere to customs and traditions.” But their stance has softened since he landed in Europe. “At such a young age, I am living far away from my own country and family just to represent my country the best way I can.”
His adventure started in school, where a classmate heard him sing and encouraged him to refine his talent. It was then that he believed he could be an international opera singer. “That was a dream and I am now working on that dream.”
The Italians were friendly and welcoming, he said, and his cultural and religious background has never proved to be an issue. They were polite and nice, regarding him as an ambitious and talented person who shared their love of art.
“I want to help spread this beautiful art in Saudi Arabia and change our people’s perception about all kinds of Western arts. Also, I would like to open an opera house in my country and lend a hand to those willing to learn classical arts.”
Al-Zahrani has joined the Coro Polifonico Musica Creator choir. He said that the story began when he was waiting for a train in Rome and saw a man playing piano at the station.
I have encountered many social and traditional barriers but I luckily managed to overcome those obstacles.
Mohammed Al-Zahrani, Performer
“I noticed that the music he was playing was familiar. I approached him and began to sing. I was just trying to pass time until the train arrived. It turned out that one of the passengers was a member of the choir. She asked for my phone number and arranged a meeting with the director of the choir.”
The director listened to Al-Zahrani sing a few days later and expressed her interest in his voice.
“She immediately chose me as a solo singer in the choir and insisted I take part in an upcoming concert. I remember I was playing an assisting role to the famous singer Francesco Sartori.”
Al-Zahrani is a fan of famous opera singers and wants to become as great as they are one day, listing Pavarotti and Andrea Bocelli as his favorites.
But some Saudis have disagreed with Al-Zahrani’s decision to drop out of college — he spent one year at King Abdul Aziz University — saying he has put his future at risk.
“Wherever you go, there are always people with you and those who are against you. Personally, I will do what I am convinced with no matter what their opinions are,” he said.
Al-Zahrani performed at Riyadh Season and has been invited to perform in other Saudi festivals, including the coming Jeddah Season. “No matter what support I receive or individual successes I make, I will always be in need of my country’s encouragement
Saudi Arabia’s first opera house is set to open in Jeddah, the General Entertainment Authority announced last February. It is scheduled for completion in 2022.