Mohammed Fairouz’s opera “Sumeida’s Song”

A few months ago I purchased the new recording (Bridge 9385) of the first opera by Mohammed Fairouz, “Sumeida’s Song,” and was very impressed by this piece and the wonderful performance. So I was excited to hear that a first staged performance would be given in New York as part of the new Prototype Festival. I went last night to the second performance, at the HERE performance space on 6th Avenue.

I ws a bit let down by this performance. The orchestration, scaled down from the recording for performance in this small space, lacked the color and urgency in the absence of brass. (On the recording the orchestra numbers close to 50, with full brass; last night there were just nine: piano, five strings, flute & bassoon, percussion.) But, more significantly, the performance was slower and less inflected, the singing unremittingly loud and lacking the nuances of the recording.

Perhaps the layout of the performance space was to blame for these problems. It was a wide rectangle, the orchestra to one side, the singers to the other, rather than positioned in front of the orchestra as in the recording. Because of the wide space, the singers were perhaps singing louder than otherwise for their voices to carry to that portion of the audience sitting in front of the orchestra. I was sitting on the side of the singers, and to me they were too loud to the point of oppressiveness at times.

But the main difference was really between the rhythmic liveliness and subtlety of the recording, compared to the slower and more straightforward presentation last night. I found the performance much less effective than the recording.

So my judgment of the piece, based on the recorded performance, is that it is a very effective first operatic effort and received a strong recording, but that its first staging was less effective, failing to present the full color of the composer’s orchestration or the subtleties of his musical treatment of a very dramatic text. I hope that any “opera scouts” attending this can see through the problems of the performance, because this work deserves a better mounting, with real sets, a full orchestra, and a cast that has the time and appropriate acoustical setting to do it justice.

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