First Saudi opera singer hopes to encourage home-grown creativity

Updated 04 July 2019

First Saudi opera singer hopes to encourage home-grown creativity

JEDDAH: Sawsan Al-Bahiti is no stranger to the stage and has been charming audiences with her powerful opera performances for over a decade.

Billed as Saudi Arabia’s first professional opera singer, Al-Bahiti is also a certified voice coach at the New York Vocal Coaching Center.

The opera singer graduated from the American University of Sharjah with a bachelor’s degree in mass communication, before she fell in love with opera after taking a course in choir singing.

“I did not realize how big it would be for my future, but the passion took me and I fell in love with it,” Al-Bahiti told Arab News.

Al-Bahiti performs in five languages — English, French, German, Italian and Arabic — and revealed that “singing in Arabic seems to be easier, but it’s not. It’s my mother tongue, but because I want to apply it to (opera) it is a challenge.”

Sawsan Al-Bahiti from AN on Vimeo.

But the most difficult part of operatic singing, according to Al-Bahiti, is not related to the language of the song at hand, but rather the vocal strength it requires.

The performer showcased that strength in Riyadh on Friday, when she made her national singing debut by accompanying the Teatro alla Scala Academy’s symphony orchestra at the King Fahad Cultural Center.

The show opened with a surprise performance of the Saudi national anthem by Al-Bahiti, who received a standing ovation.

“When I performed… I was beyond proud of myself and my country. It was my first time to perform opera in Arabic in public,” she told Arab News.

But receiving public support for her craft didn’t happen overnight.

“Of course, there were the obstacles of getting the public’s acceptance as a Saudi woman and… on the other hand as an opera singer because it’s a brand new art on the scene. And of course, the cultural reservations when it comes to family and getting into the field of music has always been a taboo. But now… the family has given me a lot of support.”

She hopes that her performances will encourage other Saudi talents to come forward and share their creativity in the public sphere.

The pioneering talent shared her plans to open an institute for vocal coaching in the Kingdom, which will also offer instrumental lessons and house a theater to “create a platform for up-and-coming talents to showcase (their craft).’’

What We Are Reading Today: Dostoevsky: The Seeds of Revolt, 1821-1849 by Joseph Frank

Updated 03 April 2020

What We Are Reading Today: Dostoevsky: The Seeds of Revolt, 1821-1849 by Joseph Frank

The term “biography” seems insufficiently capacious to describe the singular achievement of Joseph Frank’s five-volume study of the life of the great Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky. One critic, writing upon the publication of the final volume, casually tagged the series as the ultimate work on Dostoevsky “in any language, and quite possibly forever.”

Frank himself had not originally intended to undertake such a massive work. The endeavor began in the early 1960s as an exploration of Dostoevsky’s fiction, but it later became apparent to Frank that a deeper appreciation of the fiction would require a more ambitious engagement with the writer’s life, directly caught up as Dostoevsky was with the cultural and political movements of mid- and late-19th-century Russia. Already in his forties, Frank undertook to learn Russian and embarked on what would become a five-volume work comprising more than 2,500 pages. The result is an intellectual history of 19th-century Russia, with Dostoevsky’s mind as a refracting prism.

The volumes have won numerous prizes, among them the National Book Critics Circle Award for Biography, the Christian Gauss Award of Phi Beta Kappa, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and the James Russell Lowell Prize of the Modern Language Association.