Saturday, June 14, 2014

Roberto Alagna - Bringing a Mediterranean Flavour to Fes Festival

From shore to shore: the musical heritage of the Mediterranean 

Roberto Alagna may not be well known to the people of Fez but tonight he had little difficulty in convincing the audience that he is a name to remember. With a superb tenor voice the Sicilian singer presented a varied programme of music that contained everything from opera to popular Mediterranean song. It was a tribute to both Neapolitan and the Arabo-Andalus musical heritage.

"Alagna, the French-Sicilian who long ago – around 1990 – proved that there were more than three tenors in the world." Fiona Maddocks, The Observer
The Festival was also treated to some exciting music from the Palestinian group The Khoury Project who teamed up with Roberto Alagna for the first time.  The concert was in two parts in order, so the audience was informed, that Alagna could rest his voice during the twenty minute intermission.

After an overture from the Palestinian group, Alagna's voice soared through the Bab Al Makina. Then he walked slowly onto the stage and left nobody in doubt that he had a voice that would have been at home in any of the great opera houses of the world. With great operatic style, Alagna’s presence gave the many opera novices in the audience a first taste of how dramatic a voice can be.

That the audience were at a sacred music festival was underlined by a superb rendition of Angelicus and Alagna's standing still, arms extended, in a Christ like image. This imagery was further enforced by his flowing mane and beard and topped off by a gold and ivory tunic.

Roberto Alagna's repertoire was an eclectic mix that included Neapolitan songs, but it was in the realm of the classical that he showed his true power. Not once did he need to rely on theatrics but rather remained contained within himself, allowing the music to tell its own story.

The audience however, responded more enthusiastically to the popular Mediterannean songs, with much foot stamping, hand clapping and cries of "ole!" giving a feeling that at times we could have been in a taverna surrounded by locals singing their favourite ballads. It did seem however that he was also resting his voice in the first two thirds of the evening, as once we reached the four encores, he finally gave much more and reached heights that were only hinted at earlier on. This is what we had been waiting for, and once Alagna stopped holding back he was truly mesmerising.

The eight musicians included the three Palestinians  (Elia, Bazil and Osama Khoury) who make up The Koury Project - one on kanun, one on oud and the third on violin. They and the French musicians who made up the orchestra played superbly. Particularly of note was the introductory piece of the second half of the concert. Starting like a slow taksim it worked its way towards a splendid crescendo under the direction of the kanun player. Clearly enjoying themselves and the collaboration, the musicians beamed as their combined talents merged effortlessly to create a supremely polished but exciting performance.

The Koury brother with the kanun

The kanun (The qanun (Arabic: قانون‎, qānūn) popular in Turkey and most of the Middle East. It is capable of creating the most delicate music. It did so tonight, but the Fes Festival patrons were also treated to a pyrotechnic display which illustrated the instruments capabilities in the hands of a virtuoso, with fingers flying seemingly suspended by strings dangling loosely from his wrist..

This was a concert to savour, not just for the rich voice of Roberto Alagna, but by the brilliance of the Koury Project.

Audience Reaction :

"I enjoyed it in the end. I wasn’t really warmed up to it until then, and I don’t think the audience were either." James Kindell, UK

"It was Godly, who is this man who has stolen my heart ? This experience – I’m not a religious person but I have to use this word – it was divine. His voice was effortless and conveyed all the feelings so that I felt everything even though I didn’t understand all the words. I am in love!" Raquel Bitton, San Francisco USA

"I’m speechless! It was lovely, his voice was full, round, generous and he had a gorgeous smile. Very soulful." Gigi Kay, Fez

The French drummer could play in any key!

Created for the Fes Festival in collaboration with The Khoury Project
Concept and Artistic Direction: David Alagna
Musical direction and arrangements: Elia, Bazil and Osama Khoury

Text: Sandy McCutcheon, Vanessa Bonnin
Photographs: Vanessa Bonnin, Sandy McCutcheon

Tomorrow at the Fes Festival (Sunday June 15)

Fez Forum at 9 at Batha Museum:  Giving Soul to Globalisation. Culture and Identity 

Batha Museum 4pm: Luzmila Carpio - Bolivia
Bab Al Makina 9pm: Youssou Ndour & Johnny Clegg
Festival in the City 4pm: Jnan Sbil Garden: Songs of the Aisawa Sufi Brotherhood
Festival in the City 10.30pm: Musa Dieng Kala / Jil Jilala
Sufi Night at Dar Tazi 11pm:  Brotherhood of the Darkaouia Zaouia (lodge), Essaouira
Tomorrow's Weather:  Max 36 degrees Celsius (96.8 Fahrenheit) 
Fez Medina Map

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

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