Cairo Opera Ballet
Cairo Opera Ballet
Opera House, John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
May 26, 1999
Reviewed by George Jackson
Hollywood used to have it in for opera, and a frequent target was Aida‹depicted with overripe singers, too many supernumeraries, moth-eaten elephants, and dancers contriving to move in a two-dimensional way. Cairo Opera Ballet has Aida as one of its antecedents. This Verdi opera was commissioned by the Khedive of Egypt for the new Italian Theatre in Cairo, which opened in 1869, and premiered there in 1871, not for the completion of the modern Suez Canal in 1869 (when another Verdi opera, Rigoletto, was given). Unfortunately, Osiris, which opened COB’s single performance in the Western hemisphere, resembled those Hollywood takeoffs on ³Egyptian² opera ballets.
For people who hadn’t read the program, Osiris began without plot. Not until Scene II, when Osiris (Andrea Mosorin) is suddenly killed, did it become apparent that a story was unfolding. This clue, though, wasn’t much help in deciphering the subsequent action about a dynastic power struggle‹Osiris’s wife Isis (Erminia Kamel) and son Horus (Dmytro Shapovalov) against Osiris’s brother Seth (Serguei Blonski) and his wife Neft (Nelly Mohamed), who have killed Osiris. The choreography, by COB’s artistic director, Abdel Moneim Kamel, with assistants, managed to link two steps together, but seldom three. Gamal Abdel-Rahim’s music differed stylistically for almost each of five scenes. Some of the audience had kind words for the scenery and costumes, which looked like National Geographic illustrations from the old days.
Not that the story was clearer in Kamel’s staging of Le Corsaire, Act III, but at least enough was traditional that steps weren’t in short supply and movement didn’t stall. Novel, though, was that the ballet’s famous showpiece was performed as a pas de deux double by the pirate, Nour El-Din (Mosorin) and Jasmin (Aleksandra Volkhovsky), plus Golnara (Irina Prokopenko) and Ali (Nour Saad), each pair taking alternate phrases. Traditional Egyptian Folkloric Dances concluded the program, yet the first item in this suite was undoubtedly a romantic duet from a modern musical. Two attractive dancers (Sahar Helmy and Nelly Mohamed) performed with a freshness lacking in the preceding ballets, so it was a pity that no title, or choreography credits appeared in the program. Then came the folkloric numbers with sticks or shawls. Not given a chance on their own, they were intermingled with belly dancing and became nightclub acts.
In Osiris and Corsaire, only the principal women wore pointe shoes, and only the principal men displayed any bravura. Most of the lead dancers were ex-Soviets, a couple were Egyptians trained in Cairo, and one (E. Kamel) studied at La Scala. The predominantly Egyptian corps consisted of men who didn’t have especially balletic bodies and women too slim for the belly dancing‹yet they relished the folk steps’ buoyancy.