Saudi Arabia’s first opera singer Sawsan Al Bahiti in her powerful and soulful voice regaled the audience in an operatic rendition of the Saudi national anthem on the 89th Saudi National Day celebrations at the Saudi embassy in Germany.
Al Bahiti, an opera singer of 11 years, can sing opera with ease in Italian, French, German and English. She has lent her voice to classics such as ‘Se tu Mami’ by Alissandro Parisotti, ‘Habenera’ from ‘Carmen’, ‘In Mir Klingt Ein Lied’ by Chopin, and ‘All I Ask from You’ from ‘Phantom of the Opera’, among others.
“Singing opera makes me feel that I’m flying high above the clouds… I’m in a different place and not on Earth,” she tells Gulf News tabloid!.
The 32-year-old soprano is also a certified vocal coach from the New York Vocal Coaching Centre.
She has her own studio, The Soulful Voice, in Jeddah, where she coaches 25 students, mostly Saudis, in different forms of singing.
Stressing on the importance of vocal coaching, Al Bahiti says, “While any singer can have a good vocal quality that doesn’t mean their voice is lacking several artistic aspects, it just doesn’t seem obvious to the untrained ear. I help singers polish their singing skills by challenging, expanding and controlling their voice.”
Comparing other forms of singing with opera, Al Bahiti says, “Opera singing is a very high maintenance and a detail-oriented skill. The opera technique combines a very flexible smooth voice and strength, which is a difficult combination to achieve. There should also be coordination between breathing, resonance, pronunciation and singing in head voice while keeping the larynx relaxed.”
To keep her voice in good shape, Al Bahiti avoids sugary and dairy products that usually develops mucus secretions in the sinuses and hinders the vocal cords. She trains thrice a week, constantly practices diaphragm breathing, and avoids talking on the day of performances.
In her wildest dreams, Al Bahiti never thought of becoming an opera singer, although since childhood she enjoyed playing the guitar and singing songs by the likes of Dido, Sarah MchLachlin, Metallica, Guns N Roses and Pearl Jam. “They were all songs that touched high notes and unknowingly my voice developed a capacity for opera,” she said.
It was only in her second year of pursuing a degree at the American University of Sharjah that Al Bahiti chose the choir singing course as an elective because she liked music.
During the audition, the conductor of the choir, impressed with Al Bahiti’s voice, told her that she had the potential to sing opera as a soloist. “I was shocked and didn’t know what to say. He then told me that facial structures affect the resonance of the voice. Since I already have a deep voice, he thought my high cheekbones had the capacity to naturally amplify my voice more,” said Al Bahiti, an ardent fan of Andrea Bocelli.
Intrigued and interested, Al Bahiti intensively started training with the conductor and his wife who was a vocal coach and an opera singer. Within a few months, Al Bahiti got an opportunity to perform her first opera song at the concert in her university.
“The feedback was brilliant, and I was in love with opera singing.”
There was no looking back.
She trained and performed in Broadway and operatic arias in Sharjah until she completed her graduation and, soon after, returned to Saudi Arabia. Due to controlled entertainment laws until a few years back, Al Bahiti’s opera career came to a halt. “I would train but didn’t feel motivated because there wasn’t any performance to look forward. I worked in the corporate sector for a few years and failed miserably.”
Al Bahiti envisioned her future.
She did not want to live meaningless life. “I did a lot of soul searching and questioned myself as why am I here in this world? I thought I had more in me, more fire burning in me to do something and leave a mark in this world or at least in the community around me. I strongly felt that my main ambition was opera singing,” she said.
After Vision 2030 was launched and the General Entertainment Authority was created to support talents and artists, Al Bahiti professionally launched herself in Saudi Arabia. With the support of her husband and family, Al Bahiti began her career as an opera singer.
“I now have a purpose in life and that is to sing and spread awareness about opera. I am happy now,” she said.