Jon Tolansky speaks to talented young soprano Fatma Said, who recently made her Proms debut
In the short time that the prodigiously gifted young Egyptian soprano Fatma Said has been performing in international concert halls and opera houses, she has received eulogistic accolades from audiences and critics alike. Her singing in La Scala’s production of The Magic Flute in Milan in 2016 brought forth ‘the flawless, radiant Fatma Said as Pamina is a discovery’ from the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, while The Times’ deputy arts editor summarised her Wigmore Hall recital last December as ‘a wonderful recital … this soprano is going places’.
Among the new places in which this star has performed is the Royal Albert Hall, where on 7 August she made her Proms debut in Mozart’s Requiem, creating a strikingly emotive yet refined colour from the moment of her first entry, arising from her awareness of the work’s origin. ‘It is an overwhelming piece,’ she says. ‘So many composers wrote requiems, but I think the special part about this one is that, whether or not Mozart realised it, he wrote a requiem for his impending death. And that is why, unlike in Mozart’s other masses, other than the eight bars that the soprano sings in the Introitus near the beginning and then again in the Communio near the end, there is no moment where any of the soloists can have the focus on themselves. It is to me music of the soul leaving the body, in a way, and so singing it you really feel close to a person’s death process. I am very moved by what I feel was the very personal message Mozart was giving through his Requiem.’ (Fatma’s performance can be watched here: www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/)
The breadth of her artistic empathy, extending across the centuries through German Lieder, French mélodie, Spanish song, Italian and French and German opera, Broadway, jazz, and songs from her Egyptian homeland, has found authentic expression in the stylistic versatility of her performing. This, added to her vocal agility and characterisation, has ignited the fascination of one of the top major record labels: she has been signed exclusively by Warner Classics. Her first CD album is due to appear in the autumn of 2020.
‘I am very excited to be creating something new,’ she says. ‘Even if some pieces in the album are well known, they will be performed in a way that has not been heard before. It will be a different sound and it will be new. At this point in time I feel I have this message to say – and even if you take me out of the album I feel it is an important project because in order that classical music can continue to live you need to present it sometimes in different and new ways for the audiences so that they can see it from different perspectives instead of always having to listen to it in the same ways as in previous times. Not to replace the past ways at all – but to offer new ways as well.’
And in the concert hall Fatma will be offering another original new way in music: ‘I am collaborating with the wonderful guitarist Rafael Aguirre, and we are preparing an Egyptian/Spanish programme of concerts. I am really excited to do this new idea of bringing my kind of voice and colours together with the guitar.’
What about new places? ‘With La Scala, in October I am singing Pamina in their tour to China, which I am very much looking forward to as it will my first time performing in east Asia. Then on 23 November I am in Fauré’s Requiem at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, and I will be singing my first Mahler Four in Cagliari, which I am immensely looking forward to as I love this piece so much. I have waited until now to perform it, because although I have been asked several times in recent years, I only feel that I am finally vocally ready at this time. It is crucial to know when the time is right to sing a particular work and never to pre-empt.’
Further ahead, Said will take the role of Zerlina in Don Giovanni at the Teatro San Carlo in March 2021. The theatre will be presenting an artist meticulously schooled yet also motivated for the future. The new skies in which this young star is soaring are uniting classical music’s heritage with present and future.