The World Premiere of Mohammed Fairouz’s opera Sumeida’s Song on the HERE Main Stage for PROTOTYPE will be the first Arab-American opera to be fully produced on an American stage. Based on the classic Tawfiq El-Hakim play, Song of Death, the opera follows the return of a young man, Alwan, from Cairo to his Upper Egyptian peasant village. He defies his family’s expectations to fulfill an age-old blood feud, instead revealing the true purpose of his return: to end the cycle of violence. For his attempts to bring light and modernity to his village, and for challenging the structure of his society, he pays the ultimate price.
Tawfiq El-Hakim's story is well known in the Arab World, and Fairouz’s operatic adaptation captures the underlying aspirations of young people, like Alwan, who stand up for their ideals and for aspirations of a better life. Alwan's resonant proclamation — "I won’t kill" — embodies the noble mission of justice and progress in this timeless, timely, and universal story.
This world-premiere production will feature a chamber orchestration with Arabic and western instruments. Mezzo-soprano Rachel Calloway leads the cast of four singers.
Created and Composed by Mohammed Fairouz
Directed by David Herskovits
Featuring Rachel Calloway, Dan Kempson, Edwin Vega, Amelia Watkins,
Music Director Steven Osgood
Set Design by Zane Pihlstrom
Lighting Design by Lenore Doxsee
Costume Design by Alixa Gage
Production Stage Manager Ryan Gohsman
Running Time: 60 Minutes
Post-Performance Discussion will follow the January 14th show.
Born in 1985, Mohammed Fairouz has been recognized as an “expert in vocal writing” by the New Yorker magazine and as a “post-millennial Schubert” by Gramophone Magazine. Hailed by The New York Times as “an important new artistic voice,” the Arab- American composer melds Middle-Eastern modes and Western structures to deeply expressive effect. His large-scale works, including four symphonies and an opera, engage major geopolitical and philosophical themes with persuasive craft and a marked seriousness of purpose.
He is the subject of a BBC TV documentary, has been featured on NPR’s All Things Considered and BBC/PRI’s The World, and has been profiled in Symphony, Strings, New Music Box, and the Houston Chronicle, among others. His works are published by Peermusic Classical. He lives in New York City.
David Herskovits is the Founding Artistic Director of OBIE Award-winning Target Margin Theater. David has directed a broad range of new opera, including works by Pascal Dusapin, Nick Brooke, Thomas Cabaniss, David Soldier, Julia Greenberg, and Robin Goldwasser, for The Lincoln Center Festival, The Bonn Biennale, Spoleto Festival USA, The Kitchen and others. Recently, David directed Uncle Vanya and The Tempest (HERE), and created Second Language (The Chocolate Factory) and The Really Big Once (St. Marks Incubator, and Georgetown Performing Arts Center). He was a 2011 Fellow of the American Academy in Jerusalem and on the 2012 Faculty of the Mellon School of Theater and Performance Research at Harvard. He has taught and lectured at Yale, NYU, the Institut Internationale de la Marionnette in France, and many other institutions, and published essays in The New York Times, American Theatre, Theatre Magazine, and Performing Arts Journal, among others.
Steven Osgood conducted the world premieres of Tan Dun’s Peony Pavilion, Jonathan Sheffer’s Blood on the Dining Room Floor, Janice Hamer‘s Lost Childhood, Paula Kimper‘s Patience and Sarah, Xenakis's Oresteia, Missy Mazzoli‘s Song from the Uproar, and most recently Daron Hagen’s Little Nemo in Slumberland. Later in 2013 he appears with Memphis Opera, makes his debut with Hawaii Opera Theater, and conducts workshops with American Lyric Theater and the Metropolitan Opera. In July he returns to Chautauqua Opera to conduct Peter Grimes.
He was Artistic Director of American Opera Projects from 2001 to 2008. He created the company’s nationally recognized Composers and the Voice Workshop Series, and led workshops of dozens of works in development. In recent seasons he has conducted productions with De Nederlands Opera, Ft. Worth Opera Festival, New York City Opera, Long Beach Opera, Wolf Trap Opera, Opera Memphis, Edmonton Opera, Chautauqua Opera, Manhattan School of Music and Juilliard Opera. He has led concerts with the ICE Ensemble, Chautauqua Symphony, Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony and Wintergreen Festival Orchestra. He has been a Cover Conductor at the Metropolitan Opera since 2006. His recordings of Lee Hoiby’s A Month in the Country and Summer and Smoke are available on Albany Records.
Rachel Calloway - Asakir
Praised by the New York Times for her “considerable depth of expression” and by the Pittsburgh Post Gazette for her “emotional characterizations and sumptuous voice…and remarkable sensitivity,” Rachel Calloway is quickly establishing herself as one of the foremost mezzo-sopranos of her generation. This season, she makes her debut at the Cervantino Festival alongside the Amernet Quartet and sings the world premier of Gabriela Frank’s Holy Sisters with the San Francisco Girls’ Choir and Joana Carneiro. This January she sings the title role in the first staged production of Mohammed Fairouz’s Sumedia’s Song in the inaugural Prototype Festival in New York City and returns to France (Massy) for performances of Benjamin Britten’s The Turn of the Screw. She appears with Ensemble Signal in a portrait of Oliver Knussen at Miller Theater. With the contemporary vocal ensemble Ekmeles, Ms. Calloway will sing in performances at Princeton University, Roulette, and in a large scale collaboration with Talea Ensemble in Beat Furrer’s FAMA at the Bohemian National Hall.
Ms. Calloway has appeared with the Berkeley Symphony, Lorin Maazel and the Castleton Festival, Cal Performances, the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s Green Umbrella Series, Gotham Chamber Opera, Glimmerglass Opera, and Central City Opera, among others. She holds degrees from The Juilliard School and Manhattan School of Music and maintains an active teaching studio.
Dan Kempson - Alwan
Baritone Dan Kempson has been praised by the San Francisco Chronicle as "a singer whose onstage presence was matched by a fluid and handsomely burnished tone." In the summer of 2013 he joins the Apprentice Program of Santa Fe Opera, covering Count Almaviva in Le nozze di Figaro. Career Highlights include Philip Glass' Hydrogen Jukebox with Fort Worth Opera and Kepler with Spoleto Festival USA; Figaro in Il barbiere di Siviglia with Shreveport Opera and the Imperial Symphony Orchestra; Ronaldo Cabral in Albany Records' premiere recording of Musto's Later the Same Evening; Carmina Burana with the Wichita Symphony, Yale Symphony, and Syracuse Opera; excerpts from Haydn's Creation with the Pittsburgh Symphony; Brahms' Requiem with the Erie Philharmonic; Belcore in L'elisir d'amore with Mississippi Opera; and Anthony in Sweeney Todd with St. Petersburg Opera. From 2009-2011, Mr. Kempson was a Resident Artist with Pittsburgh Opera, singing Tarquinius (The Rape of Lucretia), Argante (Rinaldo), Fiorello (Il barbiere di Siviglia), Morales (Carmen), and student matinée performances as Count Almaviva (Marriage of Figaro) and Figaro (Il barbiere di Siviglia). He is a graduate of Manhattan School of Music and Peabody Conservatory, and also trained at the Merola Opera Program of the San Francisco Opera.
Edwin Vega - Sumeida
Hailed as a “remarkable young tenor” 2012 Sullivan Foundation Career grant winner Edwin Vega made his English National Opera debut as Molqi, in a new production of John Adams' Death of Klinghoffer, directed by Tom Morris. The 2012-2013 season also includes debuts with Opera Omaha (Armored Guard/Magic Flute), New York City Opera (Don Miguel cover/La Pericole). Mr. Vega will make his debut with the Komische Oper Berlin in Zimmerman’s Die Soldaten (Junge Offizier) in the summer of 2014 after debuting with Virginia Opera as the Tanzmesiter in a new production of Ariadne auf Naxos. Engagements for the 2011-2012 season included Nevada Opera's new production of Madame Butterfly (Goro), Duck in Bolcom's Barnyard Boogaloo with the Remarkable Theater Brigade at Carnegie Hall and the United States premiere of Mercandate's I Due Figaro (Don Alvaro). Recently Mr. Vega returned to the Santa Fe Opera as a Servant (Arabella) and King Edrisi understudy in Szymanowski's King Roger. He also performed in scenes as Prunier (La Rondine, Act II) and German Soldier #3 (Silent Night). He returned to Chicago Opera Theater for the Chicago premiere of Charpentier's Medee and was made his Carnegie Hall debut in Jerry Springer - The Opera starring Harvey Keitel.
Amelia Watkins - Mabrouka
Described as having “a rich, glowing lyric sound destined for the heights" by Opera News, soprano Amelia Watkins has appeared in leading concert halls and opera houses in the United States, Canada, Europe and Asia, with the New York City Opera, Estates Theatre (Prague), the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Carnegie Hall, Weill Hall, the Verbier Festival (Switzerland), the Gewandhaus (Germany), the National Arts Center in Ottawa, and in concert in Hong Kong. Operatic roles include Norina (Don Pasquale), Despina (Così fan Tutte), Zerlina (Don Giovanni), Musetta (La Bohème), Mme. Herz (The Impresario), Gretel (Hansel & Gretel), Dafne (Handel’s Apollo e Dafne); oratorio roles include Handel’s Messiah, Mozart’s Requiem and Exultate Jubilate, and the Fauré Requiem. Embracing musical styles from Bach to Berio and beyond, Amelia specializes in the works of living composers, performing premieres and pieces by esteemed composers including Augusta Read Thomas, Missy Mazzoli, Manfred Trojahn, Michael Gordon, Corey Dargel, and Greg Spears.
A graduate of the Oberlin Conservatory and the Manhattan School of Music, Ms. Watkins can be heard on Albany Records in” New Growth”, on the 2011 Grammy nominated Bobby McFerrin album “Vocabularies”, in Missy Mazzoli’s “Song From the Uproar”, and in various film and television scores.
I wrote Sumeida’s Song, my first opera, in response to Tawfiq El-Hakim's play Song of Death. It resonated with me so powerfully that I knew I had to create a musical and theatrical adaptation. As I composed the opera, I was completely and unmistakably possessed by the story, its characters and its message. Sumeida’s Song follows the return of Alwan, a young man, from Cairo to his peasant village in Upper Egypt. He defies his family’s expectations that he will fulfill an age-old blood feud. Instead, he reveals that the true purpose of his return is to end the violence, and bring light and enlightenment to his village. For challenging the structure of his society, he pays the ultimate price – at the hands of his own family. While I wrote Sumeida’s Song, Alwan became my alter ego. I lived and breathed his noble mission of justice and progress by retelling, through my score, Tawfiq El-Hakim’s timeless and universal story.
- Mohammed Fairouz
"One of the most talented composers of his generation"
— BBC World News
"...an important new artistic voice"
— New York Times
"...[a] postmillennial Schubert."
"Biblical in sweep, the opera (Sumeida's Song) tells a story of a clash of old thought and new thought and, while written in 2009, comes, for Western listeners, on the heels of the unrest in Egypt that has led to the forming of a new type of government for that region. Fairouz is dedicated to bringing Eastern and Western thought together, and breaking down the barriers that prevent people from being everything they are, and moving forward together. This opera has winds of change swirling around and through it, and it’s one you must see. This young composer is someone to watch."
— Sherri Rase, [Q} onstage
“Mohammed Fairouz wrote Sumeida’s Song, a lushly scored chamber opera, when he was only 22. Its concerns with peace and communal healing place it in the humane tradition of such works as Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra and Don Carlos.”
— Marion Lignana Rosenberg, WQXR
"Fairouz's music reveals his tenet. Whether as a response to the Tahrir Square coup d'état or a reflection of unrest in the Middle East, languages intermingle in hopes of offering a different angle. His artistic point of view has contributed to his rise as one of the most in-demand composers of his generation."
— Joel Luks, Culture Map Houston
"In many ways, Fairouz' opera is a perfect vehicle for "black box" exploration. It's an intense — almost claustrophobically close — household drama, albeit one with huge societal implications."
— Anastasia Tsioulcas, NPR Music