Music venues in 19th-century Egypt, the Ottoman Empire and Tunisia
“In considering all parts of the society, one should not hesitate to say that Constantinople [Istanbul] can well match any European city in the field of music.” (From Bartolomeo Pisani)
Before the 19th century in the Middle East and North Africa music was performed in many places – outdoors or in palace courtyards – but not in purpose-built halls. Three distinct approaches to venues built for music performances developed after 1850. The Cairo Opera House, commissioned by the Khedive Isma‘il and designed by Italians, opened in 1869 with Giuseppe Verdi’s Rigoletto. Its construction in central Cairo reflected Isma‘il’s programme of modernisation and adoption of European institutions. In Istanbul, Sultan ‘Abd al-Hamid II added numerous buildings to the Yildiz Palace between 1893 and 1902, including a theatre. Within the palace grounds, it would have functioned as a private, royal hall for music and drama. The third type of theatre was built in Tunis, designed by French architects in the Art Nouveau style in the European quarter of the city, presumably with a European colonial audience in mind.
Opera House, 1869


Bibliotheca Alexandrina, Alexandria, Egypt

In honour of the opening of the Suez Canal, the Khedive of Egypt ordered the building of the Cairo Opera House in 1869. The 850-seat theatre, designed by Italians Pietro Avoscani and Mario Rossi, opened with Verdi’s Rigoletto. Although unprofitable, the Opera House continued to stage important performances, including Aïda, which had been intended for its opening but debuted in Cairo in 1871.

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