Christmas operetta

15-12-2011 09:05 AM

Nader Shukry


Inside the Small Hall of the Cairo Opera House the lights dim as ominous sounds of a battlefield reach the ears of the audience. The curtain rises to confirm that a war is going on. The viewers are then introduced into a simple wooden cottage on the Belgium-German border during WWII, where a mother and her nine blind daughters live. The father of this poor family is with the army, fighting against the Germans.

Why, o why?
It is Christmas Eve and the family has set up a small manger scene with a lovely statuette of Baby Jesus. The mother is preparing a meal, but has chosen not to cook the goose but to keep it until the father comes home.
Amidst the battle sounds, one of the girls cries, “Why all this ruin? How can any man kill his brother? In whose benefit is this horrendous war? The victims are innocent men, women and children who have nothing to do with the selfishness and hatred which kill peace!” The mother answers that “God can stop this war and give us peace. This is the Christmas’ message. Whoever searches for peace finds it.”
The music plays, and the blind girls sing as though to David’s Harp; the lyrics written by Ra’fat Samir are warm and meaningful, linking peace to the Christmas message.

Put the enmity aside
There is a knock at the door. The woman opens to find two Allied soldiers begging for shelter. One is wounded and the other pleads with the woman to help him take care of his friend. She cannot refuse, although it would put her in danger of death at the hands of Hitler’s soldiers. She helps clean the soldier’s wounds and prepare for him a place to rest. Meanwhile, she asks her daughters to cook the goose she was keeping for her husband’s homecoming.
Again there is a knock at the door. This time it is a German soldier asking for shelter and food. Again she cannot refuse, risking her life and her daughters’. She lets him in, but on condition of handing her his weapons first—which he promptly does. When the German soldier sees the American soldiers, he stands transfixed. Allies and Axis stare hatefully at one another. But the warm-hearted woman will have none of that. She asks them to sit at the table and, even if just for the moment, put their enmity aside.

Healing wounds
At the table, the German soldier gets out a bottle of brandy, but the woman refuses to drink and asks that instead it be used to heal the pain of the wounded soldier. The German willingly accepts; he was in the medical corps and can help treat the American soldier’s injury.
After dinner, the German asks for directions to a nearby village but the woman does not know. The American soldier, however, does know. He offers to drive him there since it is on his way to another village. But the German is shocked at this and warns the American that this specific village had already fallen into German hands.
The fruits of love are harvested in this little cottage. The two warring soldiers shake hands, leaving the cottage with their hearts full of love on the Christmas Eve.

Universal theme
The voice of the narrator Usama Mounir is heard saying: “The German and American soldiers returned to their camps, never to forget this Eve when the mother and her daughters held a special armistice and proved that peace was accessible no matter how harsh the circumstances.”
The story was acted out as an operetta amid the Christmas programme of the Cairo Opera House, by the “Choir of the Heart of Jesus” which was formed in 1990, entirely of blind girls. The operetta was directed by Safwat Fahmy and was applauded excitedly by the audience. The lyrics and music—sung to the universal theme of love—were very expressive and were performed with skill, feeling and warmth. Anba Benyamin, Bishop of Menoufiya, who was attending, spoke of the choir with great admiration. “They have insight and feeling more than those who were blessed with the gift of sight,” he said.

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