Our team at the Fes Festival of World Sacred Music have captured video of an extraordinary event – the operatic tenor Roberto Alagna in a flowing galabah working with a band of Middle Eastern and North African musicians.
Mary Finnigan’s report follows:
The 20th anniversary edition of the Fes Festival of World Sacred Music unfolds this week in Morocco’s cultural and religious heartland –
proclaiming a message of peaceful collaboration, with Islam as an exemplar of unity. Meanwhile the capacity for multi faith tolerance that used to prevail in Syria has disintegrated under the impact of civil war and Iraq is being torn apart by Sunni versus Shia sectarian violence. Israel and Palestine are still squabbling and Egypt is back under military rule.
But the Fes Festival keeps on trying — to maintain its momentum as a beacon of hope in a troubled world and as the acceptable face of Islam. Two days into the festival, so far all the performances have taken up the theme, with varying degrees of success. The opening night spectacle incorporating audio, visual, dance and acrobatic effects, worked surprisingly well as an illustration of an arcane esoteric text. The Malian diva Rokia Traore was on brilliant musical form, in tandem with her passionate endorsement of Pan African identity. The Franco Italian operatic tenor Roberto Alagna made a bold, but somewhat misguided attempt at cross cultural integration. Alagna’s line up comprised stage left a Middle Eastern ensemble playing their kind of music and stage right a small western orchestra playing on an entirely different tonal range. Centre stage, Alagna’s magnificent voice seemed equally disjointed – much better suited to Puccini than the folk-based repertoire he chose for the occasion. Many members of the 3,000 strong audience loved it with uncritical enthusiasm. But the musical cognoscenti fled during the interval, shaking their heads sadly.