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Despite COVID-19 crisis, Egypt’s prestigious Opera House holds Christmas events

The Egyptian Opera House organized Christmas celebrations with the participation of many musical groups, while taking into account precautionary measures to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
A general view shows the closing ceremony of the 42nd Cairo International Film Festival (CIFF) at the Opera House in Cairo on December 10, 2020. (Photo by Mahmoud KHALED / AFP) (Photo by MAHMOUD KHALED/AFP via Getty Images)

CAIRO — Fear has plagued the world during the holiday season amid the ever-escalating coronavirus pandemic and the rise in the number of deaths all over the world.

But for the first time in 20 years, the Cairo Opera House, a major cultural institution in Egypt, organized a series of Christmas events, with the participation of over 150 artists from numerous musical groups including the Cairo Opera Company, the Cairo Celebration Choir and the Cairo Symphony Orchestra. The events started in mid-December and are expected to continue until early January. 

The Cairo Opera Company was officially formed in 1964 and opened for many of the most famous international opera groups, and its repertoire includes over 32 famous operas based on novels.

Magdy Saber, head of the Cairo Opera House, told Al-Monitor over the phone that the Egyptian Opera House is an essential partner in all artistic and cultural events, stressing that many major events take place at the venue, most recently the Music Festival in November and the 42nd Cairo International Film Festival in December, all of which were held in an open-air theater, with full commitment to all COVID-19 precautionary measures.

Saber pointed out that the Cairo Opera House canceled events in its venues in Cairo, Alexandria and Damanhour on Dec. 30-31 following the Cabinet's announcement that the country has entered the second wave of the virus and precautionary measures should be strictly adhered to.

He stressed that daily Christmas events were held until Dec. 27, before the Cabinet’s decision was issued, while taking into account all precautionary measures to stem the spread of the coronavirus. “They [the events] included Arabic musical performances by many different opera groups, in addition to modern dance routines, performed by 150 artists,” Saber said.

In light of the rising number of cases of COVID-19, the Cabinet issued Dec. 27 a decision banning all New Year’s celebrations, threatening to close down any institution that violates the decision. 

Meanwhile, Saber expressed his happiness with the Christmas events that were organized in 2020, describing them as a message of peace from Egypt to the world using the language of music and art — a language that brings peoples closer together.

He added that the Opera House aims to raise the artistic taste of Egyptians through these events, and bring joy and happiness to all visitors by holding celebrations during Christmas in the various halls of the Opera House in Cairo and Alexandria.

Speaking about the precautionary measures taken at the Opera House, Saber noted, “We have taken many measures, including the mandatory wearing of masks for workers and visitors as well as members of musical groups. We are sanitizing the halls with various types of disinfectants. We have also been broadcasting online musical performances every night at 9 p.m. on the YouTube channel of the Egyptian Ministry of Culture. The Opera House now offers the possibility of booking tickets online, by instant payment or by credit card.”

The Cairo Opera House was inaugurated on Oct. 10, 1988, in its new Islamic-style building, which was built thanks to a grant from the Japanese government on Gezira Island in Cairo.

This cultural edifice is considered an alternative to the Khedivial Opera House built by Khedive Ismail Pasha in 1869, which burned down on Oct. 28, 1971, after it had been a cultural beacon for 102 years. Ismail had ordered the construction of the Khedivial Opera House in the Azbakeya district in central Cairo on the occasion of the inauguration of the Suez Canal in mid-November of 1896 in a legendary ceremony.

Imam Mostafa, artistic director of the Cairo Opera Company, said in a press statement Dec. 9 that she developed a new artistic vision for the celebration this year, presenting first-time performances using modern technology and display screens.

Mostafa noted that the Christmas events include unique performances of the world's most famous holiday tunes, including "Silent Night," "Wonderful Grace," "The Lord's Prayer" and "Jingle Bells."

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