THE SUEZ CANAL AND THE KHEDIVIAL OPERA HOUSE OF CAIRO
On the 29th of November 1869, Khedive Ismail, grandson of Mohammad Ali, gathers 6.000 eminent guests in Egypt to celebrate the opening of the Suez Canal. The opening of the Canal was one of the most expensive, eccentric and secular events of the era. It defined and still continues to define the position of Egypt in wider Europe, in Mediterranean and the Middle East, sealing its fate up to now.
It was a historic moment. It was then when the sea path which connected the Mediterranean with the Red Sea, Europe with India and as a consequence West with East, finally opened. With all eyes focused the West, as his grandfather's did, and motivated by an intense spirit for the Europeanization of the Egyptian society, the Egyptian monarch founded the Khedivial Opera in the frame of the general effort for the modernization of the scientific, educational and cultural structure of the country. He reached his goal sufficiently.
The Opera House built in 1869, designed by Italian architects, Afoskoni and Rossi, was a cosmopolitan center and a place where coexisted the musical culture of East and West, until its destruction by fire in 1971. The building was deeply influenced by the Opera in Paris due to the elegant and rich rhythm of Rococo and Baroque and for a century it precipitated the fast course of the Egyptian society to modernism.
The Khedivial or Royal Opera House of Cairo inaugurated on the 1st of November 1869, destined to become the legendary symbol of art, music and drama in Egyptian capital. Early in the morning on the 28th of October 1971, the Opera was completely destroyed by fire, on the day branded by Egypt as "national disaster". Along with Opera, the authentic music scores of Aida, the costumes and the jewels of the first performance were also destroyed. That night Katina Paxos would have had her premiere...
AIDA AND RIGOLETTO AT THE KHADEVIAL OPERA HOUSE OF CAIRO
The choice of the Pharaonic theme of “Aida” and the assigning of the composition to Verdi complies with the intention of Egypt integration plan to the artistic habits of the West. Each culture has its own classic love story and “Aida” comes from Egypt.
A tale of love, jealousy, patriotism, betrayal, fate and reincarnation. Despite the efforts for “Aida” to coincide with the inauguration of the Khedivial Opera House, the first performance of “Aida” was held on the 24th December 1871 and furthermore the opening performance of the Opera on the 1st of November 1869, was covered by Verdi's Rigoletto. Khedive Ismail, asked Verdi to compose “Aida” in order for the play to be performed in January 1871, but the premiere was delayed due to the Franco-Prussian war. The aspect that Verdi’s work was created in order to support the opening of the Suez Canal and the Khedivial Opera House is inaccurate. Verdi was requested to compose an ode for the official celebration which he refused by answering that he didn’t compose music for occasional events.
The composer’s refusal was finally bent when he read the work of the French Egyptologist Auguste Marriette, creator of the Egyptian Museum. The libretto was then entrusted to Antonio Ghislanzoni.
The theme of the opera «Rigoletto» by Verdi is based on the play of Victor Hugo «Le Roi s'amuse» (the King amuses himself) and was played at the court of Francis I in France. Although the performance strongly criticized despotism and was strictly censored by the authorities of Venice, it covered the opening performance of the Khedivial Opera House.
By accepting the Opera of Rigoletto to be played in the Egyptian capital, where the mail character was an old hunchback jester of the court, Ismail put himself and the monarchy institution through the test of inevitable critical parallelism. Putting a dissolute monarch on stage was a risky choice.
Verdi’s work which marked the entrance of the composer’s maturity period, introduces Egypt to the elements of Western musical culture and thought, 18 years after his first performance in Venice.”
THE DYNASTY OF MOHAMMED ALI AND THE GREEKS IN EGYPT
The reign of Mohammed Ali in Egypt, surpassed in duration those of three sultans and countless viziers. He was the most powerful and long-lived Empire’s ruler. In Istanbul, Kavalali Mehmet Ali until today is taught in schools for being a source of fear, envy, controversy and a legend. Also being a threat for the sultan, we recognize today, through the archives of the era, the awe and the respect towards his reformative and selfish policy. In addition, many historians compare the developments in Egypt during this period with those of the Ptolemaic dynasty. His influence can be recognized within the efforts of the state’s reconstruction in 1839.
Moreover, Mohamed Ali caused conflicting criticism based on admiration and derision. The majority of the French saw him as the Napoleon of the East while for the British he was a serious obstacle to their expansion and the maintenance of Great Patient that Britain needed in order to limit Russia.
His descendants reigned in Egypt for one more century. Among them, Ismail Pasha, who connected his name with the opening of the Suez Canal and Egyptian Belle Epoque, the westernized patriot Abbas Hilmi and a child King Farouk, linked Egypt with all the royal families of Middle East.
Throughout the dynasty, the Greeks advanced, pioneered and thrived. Mohammed Ali and his dynasty supported, for their own reasons, the most important community of Hellenism, that of Cairo and Alexandria. The open minded policy of Mohammed Ali and his cosmopolitan dimension on his successors, was the shelter and step for the nostalgic Alexandria of Cavafy, Forster, and Durrell.
In 1952 the dynasty was overthrown due to the revolution of Nasser and in 1953 the Egyptian Republic was founded. Whatever related to the Pasha and his descendants, was forbidden to the Egyptian society. On the 10 year anniversary of the democracy’s creation in 1963 and during his solemn speech, Colonel Nasser Amptel, relocated Mohammed Ali in his rightful place as the creator of modern Egypt.