From 1815 to 1920 Arab music underwent significant changes in part thanks to the patronage of Isma‘il Pasha and the formation of the Khedivial School, or style, of music in Cairo. Theatres and cafes with performance spaces hosted concerts, often performed by female singers and male instrumentalists. However, direct European influence is difficult to pinpoint because the leaders of the al-Nahda movement in music wrote no theoretical treatises about their work. In contrast, 19th-century European composers named works after characters in Arab literature such as the character made famous as the central story-teller in the Arabian Nights, Sheherezade (Maurice Ravel). Isma‘il Pasha commissioned Giuseppe Verdi to write an opera for the opening of the Khedivial Opera House in Cairo, and Aïda was the result, though its debut in Cairo was delayed until 1871. Such events would certainly have had an impact on the musicians of the Khedivial School.
Opera House, 1869
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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.