Seductively swaying Carmen the Gypsy Danced to a Palestinian Orchestra in Bethlehem

“With our music we represent Palestine. We say out loud the name of the country that many decided to deny its existence. The world thinks we don’t love life, but we do. We love life, music and we serve our country with our instruments.”

By: Malak Hasan

Palestine News & Information Agency – WAFA

BETHLEHEM, April 18, 2013 (WAFA) – Seductively swaying in her red dress wrapped around her slender body and rather dark hair carelessly resting on her pale shoulders, Carmen the Spanish gypsy emerged from Georges Bizet’s 1875 Opera Carmen to dance and sing about love accompanied by the Edward Said National Conservatory of Music (ESNCM) orchestra performed in the city of Bethlehem on Saturday.

Once the music began, the audience was captivated in the melodies of the violin, cello, flute, bass and drums played by young Palestinian and international musicians, and the Swiss singers whose voices brought closer the burning story of Carmen and her jealous lover, Don Jose.

Religion, country of origin, or language, all didn’t matter as the audience who was watching Opera Carmen only came for one reason: to witness the power of music in bringing together two different worlds and cultures on one stage.

With the Palestinian red and white kuffiya, the national scarf and head cover, resting on the shoulders of the Swiss St Michel Choir and the black kuffiya on the shoulders of some Palestinian musicians, the act was not only a celebration of the western and eastern harmony, art and music, but an expression of resistance and solidarity with Palestine.

While Carmen sang with her velvety voice, director and choir conductor, Philippe Savoy, explained, his enthusiasm evident, “We chose the red and white scarf because it carries the colors of the Swiss flag.”

The story of Carmen, which was originally written in French, doesn’t relate to the Palestinian people in the sense of the word. It is the story of a young Spanish woman who works in a cigar factory and dies at the hands of her rejected lover.

 Academic director of the Edward Said National Conservatory of Music, Michele Cantoni, who looked very calm yet eager before the performance, said “the significance of the act is to mainly show the quality of playing, teaching and talents here in Palestine.”

It wasn’t only to present the unique potentials of the young Palestinian musicians who try to live a normal life in abnormal conditions but also, says Cantoni, “to show this picture to those abroad who think Palestinians are different than any other people whereas they have the same kind of humanity, sensitivity and the same kind of capability, but unfortunately a certain kind of propaganda convinced the world that this is not the case.”

It is not always that an opera is performed in Palestine and this is exactly why such an act was well received. Even though the story and the language were foreign, it didn’t stop the audience at the Solomon Pools’ Convention Center from enjoying the fine act.

Nadin Baboun, a violinist with the ESNCM orchestra, said: “Everyone understands the language of the music. You don’t have to be a musician to sense the love, suspense, romance and drama.”

She explained, “With our music we represent Palestine. We say out loud the name of the country that many decided to deny its existence. The world thinks we don’t love life, but we do. We love life, music and we serve our country with our instruments.”

With words sang in broken Arabic, the St Michel choir closed their performance singing “Hadi Ard Jdudi… Filistinu, Filistinu” (This is the land of my ancestors… Palestine, Palestine); asserting in their own artistic way the Palestinian people’s right to live in their homeland and the land of their ancestors.


This article first appeared here 

Palestinians perform Carmen with Swiss choir

Monday, 15 April 2013

Reuters – published on AlArabiya

Palestinian musicians from the West Bank collaborated with a Swiss choir to perform George Bizet’s renowned opera, Carmen.

The concert took place in Bethlehem’s Convention Palace.

Playing alongside musicians from the The Edward Said National Conservatory of Music (ESNCM) Orchestra were members of the Palestinian Youth Orchestra, made up of Palestinian students aged between the ages of 12 and 19 who live in the West Bank.

The young musicians are taught by Palestinian, European and American musicians.

Director of the Edward Said National Conservatory of Music, Jalil Elias, said the event showed just how talented the young musicians are.

“This is a very unique event for the Edward Said National Conservatory of Music because it needs very qualified people to work on it, particularly as it is the opera of Carmen. Our students and teachers worked with this organization to ensure the success of this event which is the first of its kind to happen in Palestine. With this high performance we have proved that Palestinians are highly qualified and are able to do such an event in our country,” said Elias.

Set in the Spanish city of Seville in the 19th century, the opera tells the tale of a passionate love story between Carmen, the fiery Spanish gypsy girl who seduces Don José, a naïve soldier who goes mad with love with tragic consequences for them both.

The young musicians taking part in the show said they were delighted to be a part of such a performance.

“This is a professional orchestra and today we will play with opera singers from Switzerland, who are famous and who sing opera in a unique way. As Palestinians playing with these people it makes us very happy and has touched and changed us,” said Lamar Jaleel, who plays the violin.

The St. Michel Choir is made up of singers between the ages of 16 and 25 years from Fribourg, the capital city of the Sarine district.

Friboug is a medieval town that sits on the cultural border between the German and French speaking parts of Switzerland.

Colombian pianist and conductor Juan David Molano has been the ESNCM’s Principal Conductor since his appointment in 2011.

“I can relate that perfectly with the situation in Palestine. They are just [too] oppressed to flourish their cultural capacities and I think this is the occasion for them to look outside this oppression and this gives them more strength in character and they are really having the benefit of all this,” said Molano, who conducted the orchestra.

The ESNCM works in partnership with the Fondation les Instruments de la Paix (Switzerland) and the Geneva Conservatoire, where Molano is also a professor of piano.

Local residents filled the auditorium seats and concert-goers expressed their joy at witnessing the progress of their young Palestinian musicians.

“The performance is really amazing and the participation of Palestinian youths with an international opera from a country like Switzerland prove that the Palestinian youths are excelling in their musical abilities and are representing Palestine to the world. Being able to play with this opera means that they have reached a very good level,” said one concert attendee, Maha Jabeer, from Bethlehem.

The Edward Said National Conservatory of Music was set up in 1993 after five Palestinian musicians and music teachers carried out a study on the status of music in Palestine in 1990 and found a huge lack of musical education in Palestinian society.

This article appeared on  AlArabiya