Nour Darwish, a 23-year-old Arab-Israeli music student, found herself thrown in at the deep end when she received a surprise call to take on the lead role in a production opening the fourth Israeli Opera Festival.
Nour was born into a Muslim family in the Arab-Israeli village of Iksal, near Nazareth, but was unperturbed by the prospect of defying cultural stereotypes to appear in an Israeli production.
She acknowledged that some in her community frowned upon her endeavor, but that it was not a problem for her, since she regards singing as a divine gift and enjoyed full support from family and friends in a potentially daunting move into professional opera.
"This is my first time singing at a real opera. It is a big challenge for me because I am still a university student and I just completed my first step as a singer, this is a big challenge and I am very happy," Nour said.
"There are some people who will not accept (me in) this role, but this is not a problem. Every person has their own thinking and I think that singing is a gift from God to me and I will work on developing this skill and see where signing will take me," she added.
As a result of an unexpected illness befalling the lead soprano in Handel's opera "Giulio Cesare in Egitto," Nour was asked to perform the demanding role of Cleopatra as a last-minute replacement, a role she had filled only two months before in the Buchmann-Mehta School of Music.
Despite the doubters, Nour told Reuters that she was inspired by music's ability to cross borders, and that she was very excited for the opportunity.
"This is not easy, I faced many obstacles to reach this point and feel peace. I consider music as an international language that can be shared between all people no matter the country because all people have feelings and emotions to express, and through music I can express my feelings. And I respect every human so long as I am being treated with respect and have my rights."
Nour's father said her family was delighted with her surprise call-up.
"They were looking for an alternative singer and they pointed at Nour, and to us this means a happiness that we can't describe," Walid Darwish said.
With only a few days to prepare, Nour impressed everyone at the dress rehearsal in Acre's Old City with her vocal and artistic abilities, and is now seen as a bright prospect in the opera world.
"Our soloist, solo singer, was sick a week before (the performance) and just because of that, we heard about her (Nour) and then suddenly we found a new star. This is absolutely a Cinderella story, and for us we are very very proud that she is with us tonight. And we are sure that we will see her much more in the Israeli opera in the future," said Zach Granit, General Director at the Israeli Opera.
Nour graduated from the Buchmann-Mehta School of Music at Tel Aviv University and was recently awarded a Fulbright Scholarship for graduate studies at Brooklyn College in New York this autumn.
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