Two Sisters: An Arabic Opera

Date:Sun 12 Feb
Time:Music starts 7.30pm
Price:£13.50 adv

A new and original work specially commissioned for the Ahbab Festival Cambridge

  • Composer: Alya Al-Sultani & Dolan Jones
  • Soprano: Alya Al-Sultani
  • Soprano: Alice Zawadzki
  • Ensemble: Alex Roth, Michael Chillingworth, Shirley Smart, Fuensanta Zambrana Ruiz, Adam Teixeira, Elizabeth Nott
  • Conductor: Dolan Jones


There are very few operas with Arabic libretto in existence. In her first opera composition, Alya Al-Sultani, a British-Iraqi soprano and singer of Iraqi folk music, explores a decision that has been close to many Arab hearts - the decision to stay or to leave. From the exodus of Jewish Arabs decades ago to the very current exodus of Syrian refugees, the decision to stay or leave and the heart-wrenching consequences of either choice has come part of the Arab fabric. As a child Iraqi refugee, she has felt and observed the longing for home in her parents coupled with the relief of safety and this opera is drawn from these personal experiences.

Two Sisters is an opera in one act for two sopranos. The role of Laila is played by Al-Sultani. The role of Maya is played by Alice Zawadzki, a British-Polish singer who not only carries a family history of the refugee experience but has been working directly with refugees for the last two years.

Musically, the composition brings in features of classical Arabic music and folk music, playing lightly with maqam and traditional rhythms while leaving improvisational space in which the music can develop in multiple directions. 


Opening Act: Joseph Tawadros (Oud)


Food available from Bedouin from 6pm.

Part of Ahbab Festival, an Arabic music festival celebrating themes of love in music and film. 



Alya Al-Sultani

Alya Al-Sultani is a British-Iraqi vocalist and composer. Her first musical experiences were Iraqi folk songs sung by her great grandmother and radio broadcasts of Um Kolthum, Abdel-Halim and Fairouz. After leaving Iraq, her family settled in London where she received classical training in voice and piano. With a career now spanning 20 years, she has performed as a soloist worldwide. She continues to develop her music in opera, Arabic and improvised music.

"At full power, she is formidable." The Times


Alice Zawadzki 

Alice Zawadzki is a vocalist, violinist and composer, and a distinctive presence on the European scene. She has been a soloist with the Tokyo, Kansai and Prague Philharmonic orchestras, toured worldwide and played her own music at most major UK jazz and alternative music festivals and venues.

“She is a genuine original”  The Guardian


Shirley Smart  

Shirley Smart is one of the UK’s most versatile and creative cellists – being equally at home and well versed in jazz and Middle Eastern music as she is in classical music. Originally trained in classical cello under Raphael Wallfisch at the Guilldhall School of Music, and Janos Starker in Paris, she subsequently moved to Jerusalem. She remained for 10 years, studying and performing a wide variety of world music from the Mediterranean and Middle East, as well as jazz, and became being highly involved with the jazz and improvised music scene.


Joseph Tawadros

Joseph Tawadros is one of the world’s leading oud performers and composers. A virtuoso of diversity and sensitivity, Joseph performs in concert halls worldwide and is known for his brilliant technique, deep musicianship and joyous style of performance.


The Souk (Market) open from 4.30-10.30pm

Throughout the Ahbab festival we will have a selection of stalls selling all manner of products, books, music and more in the foyer area amongst the cafe with the smells of mint tea, Turkish coffee, sweet Arabic pastries and a cornucopia of tastes and flavours from the Middle East.

Running times (subject to change)

  • Bar and food from 6pm.
  • Auditorium doors open 7pm
  • Joseph Tawadros 7.30pm
  • Interval 8.30pm
  • Two Sisters. An Arabic Opera: 9-10.15pm

Under 14s must be accompanied by an adult.

All prices shown include a booking fee.