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Founder and Soprano Zeina Barhoum on the Third Annual Amman Opera Festival

Zeina Barhoum

Founder of the Amman Opera festival, Zeina Barhoum

HRH Princess Muna Al Hussein, royal patron of the Amman Opera Festival, has faith in its founder, Zeina Barhoum. “She has helped to put Jordan on the map. I have had the pleasure of listening to Zeina at various concerts and also enjoyed her voice on CDs very much. I consider her a great ambassador of music for Jordan.” Barhoum, an accomplished soprano who started singing when she was 12, will take the festival – the first of its kind in the Arab world – into its third edition this month. Following La traviata (with costumes by Jordanian designer Laith Maalouf) and La bohème, this year, The Barber of Seville will take center stage. The production involves more than 100 people mainly from Jordan and Italy, specifically the Bologna Opera House. Barhoum will play the role of Rosina and Yuma Shimizu as Figaro. The orchestra will feature musicians from the National Music Conservatory Orchestra from Jordan with the Rimini Opera Choir. “The vision of the festival is to bridge cultures, bring people together from different parts of the world, to make music, and be on stage together,” says Barhoum of the partnership that represents an important milestone in the festival’s journey. “It’s challenging. It can be overwhelming,” admits Barhoum of her various lead roles. “Can someone else sing instead of me?” she laughs. “I do wear more than one hat. I am a manager at heart, a designer at heart. But I also love performing. Finding the right balance. Learning to say no and accepting that you can’t have it all.” And yet she doesn’t stop. Barhoum has introduced workshops on cultural literacy and music appreciation, with a focus on opera and classical music aimed at children. The goal of the program is to eventually grant scholarships. Her next initiative is to encourage opera in Arabic. “There is so much talent – a huge potential for Arabic opera,” she asserts.

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The soprano praises her mother for always encouraging her. “She never said, ‘You can’t do that because you’re already doing this.’ If I wanted to get into the jewelry world, she said go for it. While others would warn it was too much. I always find myself a bit more when I talk to her. She assures me that I am doing the right thing.” For Barhoum, this means elevating others. “With the Office of the United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights (OUNCHR), we will involve two refugees as assistant tailors to our Italian costume designer who will make fitting adjustments in Amman,” the soprano says. She will also coordinate with OUNHCR, World Food Programme, and SOS Children’s Villages to offer invitations to refugees and orphans to attend the opera. The soprano was recently appointed an ambassador of the global project Opera for Peace. As for the role that eludes her, she shares that it is that of Leonora in Il trovatore. “I can’t sing it yet. I’m not old enough,” she asserts. “You have to be vocally mature. A young singer shouldn’t be ambitious to perform a role bigger than her age and voice. Build the career slowly. The thing about opera is that every role has its time.”

The Barber of Seville will be performed on October 17 and 19 at The Cultural Palace in Amman.

Originally published in the October 2019 issue of Vogue Arabia 

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