JEDDAH: The second recipient of the Andrea Bocelli Foundation-Community Jameel Scholarship was awarded to Egyptian talent Laura Mekhail in 2021, who enthralled a Jeddah audience with her stunning performance on the Hayy Jameel stage on Jan. 28.
Mekhail is the first Arab woman to receive the scholarship, as the inaugural recipient was French soprano Clara Barbier Serrano.
The Arab soprano performed next to Italian pianist and composer Daniele Ciminiello, who had coincidentally also performed with Serrano last year at the same venue.
During the show, Mekhail took her audience on a spectacular journey through the history of opera, covering classics by legendary composers such as Handel, Mozart and Puccini, followed by Arabic songs such as “Ana Albi Dalili” by Laila Mourad, and “Sahar El Layali” and “El Helwa Di” by Fairuz. She completed her performance with breathtaking renditions of English songs “I Could Have Danced All Night” and “Pure Imagination.”
In an exclusive interview after the performance, Mekhail told Arab News that receiving the Bocelli-Jameel scholarship at the Royal College of Music was the most amazing experience she ever had.
“It is truly a dream come true to study at the Royal College of Music. It is now the top school in the world, and it’s not easy to get into. I cannot believe that I am one of the very few people who get to be there and receive this amazing education that will put me on different stages all around the world.”
The same performance also took place at the Kingdom’s cultural and historic destination AlUla at the award-winning Maraya Concert Hall on Jan. 27 where Mekhail performed next to Andrea Bocelli.
She described the thrill of singing with the legendary talent.
“I felt so comfortable. I thought I would be scared or shaky, but he made me feel like it was going to be fine. He encourages and believes in young talent. So, it felt amazing to sing next to him.”
Mekhail discovered her passion for singing during her childhood when she was part of a church choir in Cairo. She has performed at the Cairo Opera House, and the influences on her singing include many Arab musicians, along with Bach and Rossini.
She studied music performance at West Virginia Wesleyan College in the US, where she was a member of the a cappella choir and worked closely with Dan Hughes, the director of Choral Activities, whom she credits for heavily influencing her vocal development.
After graduation, Mekhail taught singing at the Chesterbrook Academy for six years before deciding to pursue a career as a professional soloist.
Mekhail’s performance at the Hayy Jameel stage is the latest development in the rising star’s professional musical career.
The seating arena was fully packed, including the theater balconies. Music enthusiasts from elders to teenagers cheered “Bravo!” after every aria and song.
Mekhail said that the heartwarming response from her Saudi audience energized her to keep singing.
Menwar Azraie, 64, a Saudi educational supervisor in the field of fine arts who attended the show with his wife, told Arab News: “I am a big fan of opera and I always like to encourage young talents. I like to attend opera gigs at the Muse music club here in Jeddah.
“I was invited to attend today’s amazing show by my daughter. I am extremely thrilled as the show perfectly captured the essence of a professional Italian opera, and what doubled my joy was that the show combined Western and Middle Eastern music styles using only the human voice and a piano. It was truly a dose of happiness, and I would love to see more of it.”
His wife Wafa Mustafa said: “I love arts and classical music, and the vibes of today’s performance were absolutely magical.”
The opera scholarship is open to students from around the world. Community Jameel, which supports the scholarship, and Art Jameel, which runs Hayy Jameel, are sister organizations founded by the Jameel family of Saudi Arabia.
The Bocelli-Jameel scholarship was established in 2019 with the aim of supporting emerging talents to study opera at the Royal College of Music in London.
Mekhail shared some words of advice for young Arab sopranos and classical singers in the region.
“You have to be persistent in your dream because it is not easy to be a classical singer, especially if you live in the Middle East,” she said. “And even if you go abroad and try to achieve that dream, it is really hard and competitive as there are very, very few Arab people in the international community. Do not be frustrated. Just be persistent. Keep following your dream. I promise you are going to get there.”