Algeria gets an opera house (but no opera)

Algeria gets an opera house (but no opera)


norman lebrecht

July 22, 2016

Built as a gift from China, it will stage orchestral and traditional dance performances.

But no opera. Not even L’Italiana in Algeri.

The state religion is Islam.

algeria opera


  • Olassus says:

    Does China get a gift of oil?

    • someone says:

      China definitely will get something or maybe I think they’ve already got it.
      It must be a present in return for the great deal.
      It happens.

      The only thing that might sound quite strange to many Western people is that ‘China built an opera house for an Islamic country as a gift’.
      The two(China and Islam) have the history of banning western classical music, which of course includes opera (though I guess and know that not all the Islamic countries did it as I already said in my previous comment to another post).

      And opera doesn’t have to mean Western opera.
      Maybe they have something similar to it as we have it in Korea, or who knows there’ll be a La traviata performance someday?

  • Mark Henriksen says:

    “If you build it, he will come”. Thats the basic idea. In this case he has a ticket in his hand.

  • Neil van der Linden says:

    Islam has not that much to do with it. Cairo and Alexandria have an opera house, and Cairo had one before Amsterdam had one, Dubai is soon opening one, Teheran had one under the Shah, who was Muslim by all means, and even recently Teheran saw Gianni Schicchi, Hänsel und Gretel, as well as My Fair Lady and the Sound of Music, Istanbul has one, Baku has one, Damascus has one, Doha has one, which is a bit too small, Muscat has one, Beirut has regular performances. Yes, some other Middle-East countries do not have one, but so does Lagos, Johannesburg (guessing), Abidan, La Paz, Paramaribo, and Lima? Bogota? Bangkok? Manilla? Opera is expensive.. and not indigenous in many regions of the world.

    • Simon says:

      Well said

    • Holly Golightly says:

      Western art music requires considerable infrastructure and now that the Asian nations like China and Japan have all this it may be read as a symbol of increased affluence, prestige and sophistication.

      Europe used to be like this until the barbarians arrived at the gate. It will spend the next decades in a low-level civil war. Brussels, Paris, Nice, Munich…the list will grow.

      • someone says:

        Well, I maybe not be entitled to represent China and Japan, but as a Korean, I can say about things of Korea.
        Sometimes, it may be shown as a symbol of increased affluence, prestige and sophistication, but I know very well that it’s just a tiny bit of the whole, even if it exists, at least in Korea for sure.

        We had horrible, terrible wars(not only the Korean War) in Korea for really, really long years, and we had nothing left after those.
        I’ve heard that at the time, Korean people even envied Africa and the Philiphines.
        However, even during and not long after the Korean war, some people didn’t stop playing music.

        For example, Kyung-Hwa Chung is one of those cases.
        Her mother got a truck to take their piano with them when they were fleeing during the Korean War.
        Kyung-Hwa Chung has been giving benefit concerts for the Children of Rwanda of Africa.
        She said that the memories of her hard life after the Korean War made her think about them.

        And recently, a documentary called ‘Piano’ was on air on one of the Korean TV channels.
        It features 3 of the best known piano teachers and pianists who experienced the war.

        Kyung-Sook Yi told North Korean soldiers where her father was because she didn’t know what they were going to do to him.
        As a result of it, she lost her father.

        Dong-Il Han sold the American soldiers’ leftover chocolate for a living.

        Soo-Jeong Shin, who was one of Seong-Jin Cho’s Korean teachers and the two were little children then.
        They played the piano at a piano competition held in Busan in 1952 when they were feeling during the war.
        It said that it became a great consolation to the nation of that time.

        I once saw a YouTube video showing that the Korean audience was just wholly, entirely, completely crazy about Joan Sutherland, who came to Korea, a long time ago.
        It was part of a documentary about Sutherland.
        She was so impressed and moved by them.
        I’ve tried to find it once again, but couldn’t, so cannot give the address of it.

        It really made me think that they really and purely loved classical music and the artist.
        If they were doing it for fame, they could’ve chosen Cliff Richard instead of Sutherland.
        And if they were doing it for vanity, prestige or sophistication, they should’ve been much more elegant than that.
        They were ‘raw’.

        One of my music teachers at school told me her story.
        One day, a great classical singer came to Korea to perform, but her family didn’t have much money, so they held a family meeting and decided to send only the first child who was her big brother.
        So only her brother went to see the performance, but didn’t come back home in time, so the rest of the family were so worrying about him because they thought he had an accident.

        Much later, he finally came back home and said that he couldn’t leave the hall because all the members of the audience didn’t let the performer go, they asked an encore and another encore and another.
        Of course, the performance was absolutely great.
        She said that the singer had tears during the performance when she was watching it on TV.
        It’s a shame that I don’t remember who the singer was.
        It definitely wasn’t Pavarotti or Domingo.
        Oh, nothing wrong with them, but it just wasn’t, as far as I remember.

        The greatest influence on me was my father.
        He played classical music almost the whole day, all the time, so it was like breathing for me.
        I didn’t even realise that I was listening to it because it was just extremely natural part of my life.
        My mother once said to me “It’s really strange. His family was so poor but he loves classical music so much”.
        Truly, the most impressive moment and memories about my father are the ones about the moment when he was listening to classical music, holding an LP.
        I still remember the moment.

        I’ve been to a lot of classical music concerts.
        I went there not only for music, but it meant something more.
        I went there to see people who had the same problems as mine.
        There, I could see people who were famous and rich and greatly admired and shining like a star, but I could feel that they had the same problems as mine, and then I felt that I wasn’t alone.

        There must be people who go to classical music performances for vanity, prestige or sophistication.
        I’m sure there are, but there are people going there for something else, whatever it is.

        Basically, it wouldn’t be that popular if the audiences didn’t truly like the music, in some parts of Asia.
        If anyone thought or thinks Asian people go to classical music performances usually for different purpose, well, I’d say that they should think about why they are going to classical music concerts.
        I truly cannot understand why some people think their purposes are or should be different from the purpose of Western people.

        By the way, I looooooooooooooooooove Korean traditional music and performances.
        I’m a great, great admirer of them and I’ve learned and perform them too, for many years.
        They are just incredible.

        • Milka says:

          It is cultural pecker matching not much else .
          No one wants to give the impression of being ignorant
          to what other folk consider as being “cultured ” so let’s build
          an opera house,it tells the world we have “arrived “.

          • someone says:

            Let’s just build opera houses and concert halls.
            They’ll do everything, won’t they?

            Norman, you should stop criticising the so-called ‘Simon Rattle’s vanity hall’.
            As soon as it is built, it’ll do everything, won’t it?

      • someone says:

        I’ve just found the video again.
        If anyone is interested, have a look.
        Joan Sutherland – A Life on the Move – Part 6

        It’s about her recital in Korea in 1978. ( It’s 25 years after the war, but Korea was still not very rich at all. )
        She looks lovely.

        There was Sumi Jo, the great soprano, too.
        She was shocked after listening to her and thought that she would be there someday.
        She was a high school student then, and realised that a human being’s voice and even the sound of breathing could shake people’s hearts like that.

        Has the audience changed much?
        Not really.
        Time’s changed and things have changed a lot, but the audience is more or less the same, I think.
        Obviously, they are not always like that, but sometimes they go wild(?).
        From time to time, they make things that are usually seen at pop idols’ concerts happen in classical music concert halls.

        Culture needs infrastructure and infrastructure helps culture develop.
        However, I don’t think that is the most essential thing.
        And I don’t think it has to be seen as a symbol of such things like prestige and sophistication.
        ( I understand Holly didn’t say like that, she said it ‘may’ be read, so it’s not that I’m only talking to her, but I’m just introducing or reminding of other aspects of it which we often forget about or ignore. )

        It could be a result of true passion and love for art and music, or it could reflect the changes in politics and diplomacy as well as economy.

        When there was no infrastructure such as proper concert halls, impresarios, agencies, money, but the fans made it happen.
        They gathered together and sent a letter to the agents of the artists and organised things and finally made them come to Korea and held the concerts in a gymnasium or an auditorium of the university.
        The classical music world was not much different in Korea.

        China is now enjoying its wealth and currently pouring lots of money into Western classical music.
        As far as I understand, in China, its government is leading it.
        It’s very contrary to Korea.
        But anyway, it’s not everything about them, I know that there are people who truly enjoy the music, too.
        I wonder what is going to lead it in Algeria.

        By the way, I’ve just read that Joan Sutherland came to Busan during the war to console the people, but not 100% sure.
        I haven’t found other articles to confirm it to be true yet.
        Anyway, ‘if’ she did, she must’ve been there around that time, when the music competition for young children was held.

        For the ones who are curious about the children,
        ( Please don’t read and don’t waste your time, if you are not interested. )

        Later, Kyung-Sook Yi (known as Kyung-Sook Lee) went to the Curtis to study.
        She won a prize at the Geneva competition in 1967 and Philadelphia Orchestra’s concerto audition.
        After that, she performed with them in 1968 and it was televised all over the America.
        One of her daughters is a violinist, Elissa Lee Koljonen.

        Dong-Il Han (also known as Tong-Il Han), he played the piano at the Americian soldiers’ military camp in Korea and earned some money.
        He said Marilyn Monroe’s visit helped it, every soldier was happy after seeing her and donated money.
        He went to America at the age of 12 and studied at the Juilliard.
        In 1962, he was invited to the White House and played the piano for Kennedy and in 1965, he won the Leventritt Competition.
        He was introduced as a piano prodigy in several TV shows including the Ed Sullivan Show in 1954.

        Soo-Jeong Shin (known as Soo-Jung Shin) studied in Vienna and at the Peabody Institute.
        She became the dean of the department at one of the best colleges in Korea.
        She’s recently become even more famous as Seong-Jin Cho’s teacher when he was studying in Korea before leaving for Paris.
        They all became renowned teachers and pianists.

        And the child, who won the highest prize of the violin at the music competition, went to Sweden at the age of 12, and later became the principal violinist of the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra.

        Worth holding a music competition for children, even during the war?

        I think no one could imagine they would become like this.
        It could’ve been just an attempt to forget about the dead bodies thrown into the sea, even just for a short time, but anyway, it changed their lives and gave a great consolation to the nation of the time.

  • Robert Holmén says:

    It will be waiting for them when they are ready.

  • Dave T says:

    Looks like high school auditorium meets cat house. Some gift.

  • Sofiane says:

    Maybe no classic opera performances right now (yearly programme is still to be revealed) but there are already some other performances scheduled
    On another note it’s not because there are still not foreign orchestras scheduled that it means that classic music won’t be played. The Opera house is also home of 1/the Algiers symphonic orchestra headed by Amin Kouider (please do check his bio with amazing experience in heading some key european opera orchestras
    2/the National ballet
    3/ the ensemble of Arabo Andalous classical music.

  • Neil van der Linden says:

    Thanks. I wonder why so many people here judge without checking any facts, based on preludice. See also my other posting on the many opera houses that exist in the Arab and Middle-Eastern world, and have existed for a long time. Remember the history of Aida, even though Verdi did not finish it in time?
    Meanwhile an operahouse anywhere in the world is not a benchmark of civilization. Rather sometimes a benchmark of easy bourgeois thinking. Most art has always originated in different places, not in the palace of bourgeoisie.

    Opera houses in many places in the world are performance centres. Even Brussels does not have a proper concert hall, except for the underground one in Bozar which is now finally getting a concert organ.

    But several comments here are ignorant and prejudiced. Including the one in the lead post about Islam and opera.

  • Pamela says:

    There are a number of Muslims these days who say all music is haram…

    • Neil van der Linden says:

      Definitely yes.. But meanwhile some of the greatest and comparatively most popular 20th century singers came from the Muslim world. Umm Kulthumm, Feiruz (still among us – Christian by the way), Leyla Murad (Jewish, tremendously popular), Abdelhalim Hafez, Mohammed Abdelwahab, Asmahan, Farid Al Atrash (the latter two both Druze). A relatively large amount of Bollywood filmstars and singers are Muslim, remember all the Khans in Bollowood. Qawwali in Pakistan, Khaled, etc… Christianity and Jewry also have their denominations where music is considered to be sinful.

  • James says:

    Algeria has had opera houses since the 1850s, and some are spectacularly beautiful inside and out.

    The opera house in Algiers has a neo-baroque feel:

    The jewel of them all, however, is the one in Oran, which is from the early 1900s, and is clearly based on the Opéra Comique in Paris:

    I believe the first production in Oran was Gounod’s Faust.