Opera student wows Arabs with her Um Koulthoum variations

Opera student wows Arabs with her Um Koulthoum variations


norman lebrecht

December 09, 2013

You may have read by now that Jennifer Grout, 23, a Boston-Irish student who’s had her voice trained for opera singing, came second in the Arabs Got Talent competition without speaking more than five words of Arabic.

What intrigued us, even more than her cross-cultural achievement, are the operatic melismas that she introduced to her performances. Just watch and learn.

jennifer grout


  • I heard her courtesy of both BBC Radio 4 and the World Service. I don’t understand a word of Arabic, but did enjoy her singing. No wonder she took the competition by storm.

  • thekingontheviolin says:

    The opening sounds Irish. The operatic arpeggios are very mediocre but most importantly it sounds utterly unarabic. Please listen to Um Kalthoum….

  • Fred says:

    indeed the ‘operatic’ interludes WERE utterly ridiculous, there are tens of other Arabic sopranos who would have done a better job at giving Kalthoum an operatic touch, good looks though, stupid choreography. Medium of the voice is good combined with the looks and the ‘idea’ (which is not new) i guess she deserved a prize indeed but second?

  • Rodica says:

    this is not an Um Koulthoum song. is a song named Ya Toyoor (Oy, birds!) of another celebrated Arab singer, the Syrian Asmahan http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kV1pbIzcpB8 and she made an wonderful retention of the song. As an opera singer and vocal coach( http://www.belcantostudioegypt.com ) who lives nowadays in Egypt i can testify that she combined the 2 stiles amazingly. Her stage presence looking like a bird of paradise was completing the performance . The song is an original and the opera melismas are existing in the original song. so Fred your comment is not reflecting the truth . Check the original one and you will understand that ” the ‘operatic’ interludes” was not “utterly ridiculous” and is not even an Kalthoum song 🙂 Also the two types of singing :the Arabic one and Opera one are really hard to combine and she did a great job. The Arabic type of singing require a different style of resignation then an western type of singing. what u heard as medium of her voice was the Arabic type of singing (a totally chest way of singing ) the opera style is working with head register and jumping from one to another not mention mastering both is a great accivment . also the opera melismas are trying to emphasis the bird singing as the song is about…yeah…birds..so Bravo Jennifer Grout you made an amazing amazing job

  • fred says:

    Asmahan was druze! So get your fact right as well. I know arabic sopranos who sing their arabic repertoire whether kalthoum, asmahan or fairouz with an operatic voice, and what grout did was NOT new at all…and i agreed she deserved a prize but being second was a too much praise