Friday, June 13, 2014

Conference of the Birds ~ Opening Night of the 20th Fes Festival

Abeer Nehmé from the Lebanon in the role of the Hoopoe bird

Hoopoe:       Welcome, nightingale from the garden of love!
                       Welcome to the royal eagle with his piercing eyes!
                       Welcome to the parrot, perched on the Tree of Paradise!
                       Welcome dove! Sing your melody.
                       Welcome, pink flamingo, whose eyes see so far.
                       Welcome beautiful crane, full of mad ideas!
                       Welcome to you, peacock!

Peacock:       And welcome to you, our guide, the hoopoe.
                        You will be the messenger of Truth in each valley.

So began the musical journey that opened the 20th edition of the Fes Festival of World Sacred Music.  The work, entitled - Conference of the Birds - was inspired by writings of the Persian poet Farid Ud-Din Attar. The musical journey was an invitation to follow the hoopoe, messenger of the birds, through seven valleys. The quest of the journey is to find the Sîmorgh, the legendary king of the birds. On the way, traditional artists from all the continents of the world, illustrated the wide diversity of human expression
Luzmila Carpio -  an extraordinary voice

This ancient tale inspired us to present this as the adventure of our own age: the journey of different cultures from all corners of the world as they seek meaning and transformation through their encounters. Here, the birds are symbols of different cultures, each with a common bond in their spirit. They undertake with joy and sometimes with pain, a journey that changes and utterly transforms them. The journey forces them to let go of ghosts that haunt them, doubts and mysteries, and to follow a path that involves ordeals, some exhausting and painful. Only thus can they find and feel the highest ideal of what it means to be human.Layla Skali Benmoussa & Faouzi Skali,
Musa Dieng Kala adding an African flavour

The opening of the Fes Festival of World Sacred Music was once again graced by the presence of HRH Princess Lalla Salma


"We are gathered under the blessed sky of this sacred city…every year birds of all feathers gather here…it is now time for the birds to take flight!" And with that, drums boomed and a dozen orange-clad acrobats indeed almost flew as they bounded and flipped across the stage on pedestals. It was a dramatic and light hearted opening.

The main role of the Hoopoe bird was sung by Abeer Nehmé from the Lebanon and her grace and beautiful voice were a perfect choice. Luzmila Carpio, who was the star of the "native American" tableau, had an even more extraordinary voice, pitched so high that her songs that seemed to consist of sounds rather than words, with a range that evoked an eagle soaring over mountain tops and a number of smaller species.

An African tableau featured Musa Dieng Kala, who springs from the same Senegalese roots as Youssou N’Dour, Baaba Maal, Wasis Diop and Ismael Lo. He had no trouble convincing the audience that he was a man to watch in the future.

The St Ephraim Choir, with their low resonant tones, gave a  sombre and dignified performance that managed to evoke the acoustics of a performance in a cathedral. But the biggest audience response of the evening was for local star Marouane Hajji who rose to the occasion with his golden voice and usual grace.

In the Chinese tableau Wang-Li produced a dark and mournful moment with an electrified jews-harp. The sounds produced were surreal. And as he emitted a low, guttural growl as the Orchestra of Simorgh staggered back on to stage with zombie-like movements.

The staging, lighting and simple set were superb with great use of added wings stage left and stage right. Sound, often a problem in the venue, was well balanced. Special mention should be made of the costumes by Léa Drouault from France, Choreography Juha Marsalo from Finland and the stunning decor by Vincent Monnot.

Why is it that opening nights of the Fes Festival appear to be problematic? Is it the weight of expectation, or the case that the intentions are not fully realised? The long evening had some good moments but what they were differed from person to person according to their taste in music.  While the basics of a good production are all there, the work itself would certainly have benefited from more rehearsal (needing to read from the score on stage should not happen a professional level) and a dramaturge could well have worked to shorten the production and given it the much needed light and shade and to lift it above what one French member of the audience described as an "high school musical".

Working with the script in hand
Audience Reaction

Audience reaction to tonight's performance was very mixed, with opinions divided about the content and performance. It was, however, the concept that drew the strongest feelings.

"A bit pretentious. It looked like a musical" - Christian Dussac, Fez

"I thought it was incredible. A wonderful treatment of so many different cultures from all over the world" Maureen, USA.

"Impressed with the talent of the singers and musicians, but not so impressed with the organisation which had crowds moving across my vision at important moments. I felt that the finale was too long and exhausted the attentive audience." Jordi from Spain

"I like the African singer - he was okay" - Skardi, Tasmania, Australia

'The full moon rising over the venue was amazing. It was magical" Jean-Michel Denconmbe, San Francisco

"I thought it was a very good show but I preferred last year's opening night performance because it was one theme. This year there were too many themes, it was huge. Also the show focused on cultures in the Islamic and the Christian worlds and the sections on China and India were like a decoration.'"- Lizhen, China

Others had mixed feelings, they thought the show was quite good and there were bits that were clever but overall many people felt it was very heavy going.

The India tableau: Manochhaya, (Bharata-Natyam)

Musicians and Performers

Hoopoe: Abeer Nehmé, Lebanon, voice
Nightingale: Thomas Garnier, France, flute
Eagle: Ahmad Compaoré, France, percussion
Parrot: Elise Dabrowski, France, double bass
Dove: Lahoucine Id Bouhouch, Morocco, oud
Flamingo: Pierre Lordet, France, clarinet
Crane: Rabah Hamrene, Algeria, violin
Peacock: Jean-Pierre Liétar, France, brass
Sîmorgh & overture: Ecole Nationale de Cirque Shems’y, Morocco
Man on the walls: Jérôme Aussibal, France

The music & dance of the world featured in the opening concert spotlights a number of different tableaux

Africa tableau : Musa Dieng Kala
Native American tableau: Luzmila Carpio
India tableau: Manochhaya, (Bharata-Natyam)
Judaism tableau: Mor Karbasi; Gerard Edery
Christianity tableau: St Ephraïm Choir
Islam tableau: Alper Gurkale & Ali Ihsan AksuSamaa El Harraq
China tableau: Zhou Ling Xia, Jiao Wang et Wang Li


Conception & Artistic Direction: Layla Benmoussa & Faouzi Skali, Morocco
Staging & Libretto: Thierry Poquet, France
Translation: Leili Anvar, France, Iran
Advisor, traditional music: Alain Weber, France
Original composition: Arash Sarkechik, France, Iran
Costumes: Léa Drouault, France
Choreography: Juha Marsalo, Finland
Decor: Vincent Monnot
The Sîmorgh (conception): Aziza Chaouni

Abeer Nehme composed the songs in Arabic for the Hoopoe. The original music was arranged by Arash Sarkechik aided by the musicians in the Sîmorgh Orchestra. The reference edition of The Conference of the Birds is the translation by Leili Anvar, published by Diane de Selliers, 2013.

Tomorrow at the Fes Festival (Saturday June 14)

Fez Forum at 9 at Batha Museum:  Giving Soul to Globalisation. Our Era and Challenge: Culture and Identity. Mandela's spiritual legacy. Lessons for our Era 

Batha Museum 4pm: Rokia Traoré - Mali "Beautiful Africa"
Bab Al Makina 9pm: Roberto Alagna - France - "Mediterraneo"
Festival in the City 4pm: Jnan Sbil Garden: Ensemble Takht al Arabi
Festival in the City 6pm: Boujloud Square - Fes Mini Marathon
Festival in the City 10.30pm: Andalous Songs from the Atlas - Badr Rami
Sufi Night at Dar Tazi 11pm:  Samaa and Madih with the national Tijani Brotherhood from Rabat
Tomorrow's Weather:  Max 37 degrees Celsius (98 Fahrenheit) 
Fez Medina Map

The View from Fez is an official media partner of the Fes Festival of World Sacred Music

Text: Vanessa Bonnin, Sandy McCutcheon
Photographs: Vanessa Bonnin, Sandy McCutcheon
Additional Material: Maha McCutcheon, Stephanie Kennedy, Larry Marshal
Libretto translation: Helen Ranger

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1 comment:

Jean Allen said...

I arrived back from this amazing event as midnight, and your report was already up! Amazing! Well done! This is my first year at the festival and I am utterly overwhelmed. I thought the opening night was fantastic. Thanks for your brilliant coverage of the festival!