The giant entrance hall of the soon-to-be-open Grand Egyptian Museum rang out this weekend with some of the world’s most well-known opera classics.
Veteran Egyptian soprano Fatma Said delivered her renditions in front of the 3,200-year-old, 11-metre-tall statue of Rameses II, the centrepiece of the museum’s entrance hall.
Her performance has received nothing but high praise since it ended late on Friday night.
Audience members tell The National they were struck by a mix of excitement at being inside the museum — the inauguration of which has been postponed several time — awe at the statue of Ramses bearing down on the performance, and amazement at the powerhouse vocals of the internationally acclaimed Said.
The audience mainly comprised Egyptians who could afford the high ticket price of 5,000 pounds ($168).
The upscale feel of the concert was reinforced through a black-tie dress code.
“It was all so beautiful,” Farida El Shirbiny, a handicrafts artist who attended the show, tells The National. "The hall was really well assembled and the ancient Egyptian statues added this indescribable effect."
Accompanied by the United Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir under the direction of maestro Nader Abbassi, Said’s set list for the night included an eclectic mix of opera classics sung in various languages.
Aficionados were ecstatic to find the genre’s masters, including Charles Gounod, Giacomo Puccini and Gioachino Rossini, well represented.
“Her skill really is quite remarkable,” says Heba Mohamed, an Egyptian soprano who attended the concert. "The songs she chose were not easy to perform by any means."
One of the evening’s highlights was Said’s rendition of Masr Heya Omy, a patriotic anthem from the 1976 film Viva Zalata starring legendary Egyptian comedian Fouad El-Mohandes.
The song was Said’s patriotic nod to Egypt and, while presenting it on Friday, she told the audience the film has always been one of her favourites.
Said continuously interacted with the audience throughout the night, recounting her stories of the songs she chose and sharing personal anecdotes.
“She was so approachable and had such an easy way about her,” El Shirbiny says. "At one point she fell over while she was dancing and she got up so gracefully, everyone loved it."
Said closed the show with her rendition of Francesco Sartori’s Time to Say Goodbye/Con Te Partiro, which she dedicated to her recently deceased grandmother who had never missed any of her performances.
The song’s title made it an apt choice for the moment, Said told the audience. She sit was made more emotional because her grandmother had helped her select songs for Friday's show.
“Some concerts are unforgettable such as singing at the new Grand Egyptian Museum and having Ramses II listening and being part of my beloved audience,” Said wrote on her official Facebook page after the concert.
While the musical performance was much praised, many audience members were also very excited to be inside the Grand Egyptian Museum, which has been the subject of public attention after promotional campaigns by the government highlighting its size and quality.
When opened, the museum will be the largest in the world dedicated to a single civilisation.
It has also become the new home of many of the country’s most well-known relics, such as an extensive collection of artefacts found inside the tomb of King Tutankhamun.
Audience members posed for photos with the statues before and after the concert.
“The museum really is almost complete,” says El Shirbiny. "Aside from some scaffolding and construction materials left out in the parking lot, everything inside looks quite impressive."