This timeless tale began when two young folk musicians from
two different countries met and became great friends at the Oman
Festival. Ahmed SURNANI is from Quriyat Oman and Mombasa
is from Zanzibar, East Africa. For many years the two friends make
their annual pilgrimage to the Muscat festival to celebrate, perform
and learn about music and cultures from all over the world -- even
after they marry and each have a male child. SURNANI is the
real surname for fishermen in Quriyat and Mombasa affectionately
introduces Ahmed at the festival as SURNANI; it remains his stage
name that only Omani continues to affectionately call him. In 2007,
Mombasa brings his wife and son for their first visit to Oman and to
meet Surnani’s family. As they drive from Muscat to Quriyat, they are
hurled into the Cyclonic Storm (Ganu); one of the worst storms
recorded in Oman’s history (an actual occurrence in 2007). Only
Surnani and Mombasa’s son, OMANI, survive the fatal car accident.
Mombasa had already named his son Omani in honor of his best
friend Surnani and the Omani people. Mombasa’s dying request was
that Surnani raise Omani as his own and in memory of Surnani’s
own son who also died in the “GANU accident.” Most importantly,
Mombasa requested that while Surnani fathers Omani, that when he
became older to also teach him the cultural traditions of Zanzibar.
But that’s not where the opera begins……we don’t
hear that part of the tale until much later.
The Qadar opera commission written and composed by award winning composer Tony Small, will introduce youth and diverse audiences in DC to the culture and peoples of Oman and Zanzibar through a seamless exchange of African and Arabic multidisciplinary arts using the vernacular of opera. The long-term impacts of this opera include it being used as a tool for music educators to seamlessly integrate non-western vocal and instrumental music into the classroom through Oman and Zanzibar’s rich modal call and response monophonic traditions. American children will learn new songs in Arabic and Kiswahili. The music undertones will also compare and contrast some of the oral call and response traditions found in both the Omani and American indigenous that have African influences (i.e. the quarter-tone glissandos, bending of notes and spontaneous ad-libs) also found in jazz and the blues; this will serve important context for assisting young American students in understanding and demystifying the Arabic scale. The orchestration includes notation in both 12 half-steps and some Arabic 24 quarter-steps.
The opera will also serve as history lesson about Oman and the region. The work will also have elements of early baroque opera (Da Capo) allowing ad libitum within the aria; this allows a comparison and contrast to “freedom within form” that are represented in Arabic, African, Jazz and even early baroque opera music.
Artistic and operatic direction for the work is by Mezzo-Soprano Denyce Graves — allowing youth and new audiences to be introduced to the making of a new opera under the direction of a world renowned opera singer. The brainchild and creative consultant for creating the work is Nicole Shivers!