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Copyright © 2009 by Mohammed Fairouz
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Sumeida's Song
An Opera in Three Acts by Mohammed Fairouz
Mohammed Fairouz
"Mohammed Fairouz has written a powerful first opera. With Sumeida's Song he finds the solution - through individual sounding  music and
strong unerring drama- to one of the most compelling problems of our time. When Sumeida's Song is premiered, we will be witnessing  a
major international event."-
Tobias Picker, composer of Emmeline; An American Tragedy

"Most impressive of Fariouz's recent works is a full length opera, Sumeida's Song, which I believe should be heard and seen.
In an age in which cynicism is mistaken for intelligence, Mohammed Fairouz is a refreshing antidote to the music of his generation - A true
young artist , who I believe has much to say in the years ahead."
-Richard Danielpour, composer of Margaret Garner
With Tobias Picker and Halim El-Dabh
at the first reading of Sumeida's Song
based on Tawfiq El-Hakim's Song of Death

Act I. A peasant house in a peasant village in Upper Egypt

Asakir and Mabrouka, two Upper-Egyptian peasant women, are sitting in silence and listening for a train’s whistle.  Once they hear
the whistle sounded, Asakir anxiously questions whether her son Alwan is on the arriving train.  Her sister, Mabrouka, reassures her
that Alwan will be arriving as per a letter that the assistant schoolmaster of the village read over to them.

Asakir tells Mabrouka that she hopes that the identiy of her son has not been revealed to the rest of the village-people.  Mabrouka
assures her sister that the village has been led to believe that Alwan drowned in the water-well when he was a child of two years.  
Citing village rumours, Asakir expresses her doubts that the Tahawis, a family with whom the Azizi family of Asakir and Mabrouka
have an ancient blood-feud, really believe that Alwan is dead.

Asakir proclaims to Mabrouka that soon the whole village will learn that her son, the son of her murdered husband, is still alive and
that the murderer of his father and the rest of the Tahawis should fear his vengeance.  Asakir desperately awaits her son’s return to
restore the honor of the Azizis after a wait of seventeen years.  She reveals that she had instructed her nephew, Mabrouka’s son
Sumeida who has been sent to fetch Alwan from the station, to sing as a sign that his cousin has come.

Mabrouka remembers how so long ago she smuggled her nephew Alwan away from the village to Cairo and left him with a relative of
Asakir’s who Asakir instructs to raise the boy as a butcher “so that he may use a knife well.” Alwan, however runs away from the
butcher shop to join the ranks of students at the great Azhar University and attains the rank of Sheikh.

When the next whistle is heard announcing the departure of the train from the station, Asakir and Mabrouka rejoice that Alwan must
have come and that he will surely avenge his father’s death and restore the family honor.  Their joy gives way to doubt and
eventually desolation when they do not hear Sumeida’s singing.  Slightly delayed, however, Sumeida’s song is heard emerging from
the distance and heralding the long-awaited arrival of Alwan.  Asakir celebrates with the statement: “from now, oh, Suweilam Tahawi,
your hours are numbered!”

Act II. The same house

Asakir and Mabrouka are waiting by the entrance in anticipation of Alwan’s arrival and soon Sumeida enters announcing his cousin.  
Alwan enters and is embraced by his mother.  He then greets his aunt Mabrouka who tells him that “our hope lies in you” and leaves
with her son Sumeida.

Asakir, now alone with her son, quickly dispenses with pleasantries and tells Alwan to “wait while I bring you something you have
never seen before.” She goes off and returns with a saddlebag that she has kept for seventeen years.  She explains to her son that
this is the saddlebag in which his father’s body was brought to her carried upon his donkey.  She describes finding her husband’s
head in a pocket while in the other she discovered the rest of his body cut into pieces.  Finally, she presents her son with the knife
of the murder saying that she has kept it with the blood on it so that it has rusted.

After an initial silence. Alwan gravely asks who is responsible for this crime and Asakir answers without hesitation that it is Suweilam
Tahawi.  When he asks her how she knows, she explains that the whole village knows.  Composing himself, Alwan asks his mother if
the crime was investigated to which she explains that “We have no enemies but the Tahawis.” Retaining his Azharite calm, he
questions her as to how she knows that it was Suweilam Tahawi himself and about the origins of the enmity between the two
families.  In attempting to answer his questions, she repeatedly resorts to “God knows best.”

Alwan then tells his mother that he has not come to kill but to tell the villagers that he wishes to bring them a better life where they
will “live like human beings in houses, where the animals do not sleep with them” and where they have access to education, a better
quality of life and clean running water.

Not understanding, Asakir dismisses her son’s “bookish talk” and tells him to prepare himself to avenge his father’s death.  Taking
heart, Alwan raises his head and tells his mother that he will not kill.  After a moment of disbelif, Asakir, concealing her dismay, asks
her son what he means by this.  More convinced and forceful than before, Alwan states unequivocally “I won’t kill.”

After this, she clashes with her son head-on.  Going out of her mind, she convulsively repeats her hoarse and screaming pleas
“seventeen years…the blood of your father…seventeen years…”  She repeats this as someone possessed while Alwan, concerned
for her, tries vainly to reason with her.  She disowns her son and orders him out of her house.  She curses him and, realizing the
futility of his position, Alwan tells her that he will return to the station in order to return to Cairo.  He prays for her and asks that her
agitated soul be calmed and tells her that he will await her in Cairo where he will “explain my point of view to you in a place of calm
far from here.” He leaves his mother disabled with shock and staring blankly into the distance.


Asakir is sitting in her place, motionless.  A moment later, Sumeida appears putting his head round the door and pushing it open
gently.  With determination, Asakir recovers her senses and beckons Sumeida who asks about Alwan.  Asakir tells her nephew that
Alwan has returned to the station “to flee from taking revenge for his father.” She then engages in a long lament saying that the
disgrace is unbearable and will make her life in the village impossible.  She predicts that the voices of the village will be raised
saying “What a failure of a belly that brought fourth such a child!” and proceeds to strike at her bell with violent blows.

She strikes herself again and again while Sumeida tries to prevent her from harming herself.  Asakir then asks Sumeida to bring the
knife that she has kept for seventeen years so that she can use it to rip open her belly.  Sumeida tells his aunt that she has gone
mad.  She stares at him and asks “Sumeida-are you a man?” When he asks what she wants from him, she tells him to take the knife
and plunge it into the chest of her son Alwan.

Sumeida protests but Asakir explains to him that if he was a man he wouldn’t allow his cousin to dishonor the Azizis and that, if he
were to condone his cousin, he would not be able to walk like a man amongst people.  The people of the village, she says, will taunt
him as “a woman hiding behind a woman.”

Blinded with defensive rage, Sumeida stretches out his hand resolutely and tells his aunt to give him the knife.  She is about to give
him the knife when she hesitates and says that she must wash off the rust and blood first.  Sumeida impatiently demands the knife
so as to catch Alwan “before he makes his escape on the evening train.” Asakir gives Sumeida the knife with resolution and invokes
that “may his blood wash off his father’s blood that has dried on the blade.” Sumeida tells her that she will her his voice raised in
song if Alwan’s killing is brought about and hurries to catch up with his cousin.

Mabrouka enters a moment later carrying a dish of salted fish on her head for Alwan.  Asakir tells Mabrouka that Alwan has fled and
cowered from avenging his father’s death and so has died.  Mabrouka declares this a degradation for the Azizis but Asakir tells her
that Alwan will soon be buried in the ground.  Not understanding, Mabrouka asks where her son Sumeida has gone and, when
Asakir tells her that he has gone “after Alwan to stop him from going,” Mabrouka urges Asakir to give up on hoping that Alwan will
stay to answer her “pleas for perdition.”

Asakir anxiously questions Mabrouka as to whether she thinks Alwan has caught the train and then hears the sound of the train
whistle as the train leaves the station.  Mabrouka becomes more and more frightened and confused while Asakir questions her as to
whether she can hear Sumeida singing.  Increasingly concerned, Mabrouka tells her sister that she cannot hear any singing and
Asakir concludes, in utter despair, that “he hasn’t caught up with him.”

Mabrouka pleads with Asakir to listen to her but Asakir screams that she hears nothing.  Mabrouka then hears Sumeida’s singing
and turns, terrified by her sister’s state and asks desperately what is happening.

Sumeida’s song is heard, this time heralding the death of Alwan.  Asakir pulls herself together lest she collapse; even so a faint
suppressed cry, like a rattle in the throat, escapes her lips.  After intoning the words: “my son,” she finally collapses.

Mabrouka (soprano)
Asakir (Mezzo Soprano)
Sumeida (Tenor)
Alwan (Lyric Baritone)

Two male dancers
Two female dancers*
Copyright © 2009 by Mohammed Fairouz
All rights reserved. The content of this website may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without permission.
This Opera is gratefully dedicated to Kyle Alexander Cronin
Orchestra: perc./strings