Last year, Ashraf Sewailam crashed over the handlebars while on a bike ride at home in Boulder, Colorado, badly breaking both arms. Four surgeries later, he managed his pain with Mozart while preparing to sing Leporello in Don Giovanni with the Seattle opera.
“My surgeon turned out to be a big opera buff and he told me that ibuprofen slowed down bone healing and he knew how physical the role was. He said, ‘I’m not telling you not to manage your pain, but since you’re doing this role you need every bit of bone-mass regain.’”
Music therapy studies show pain can be managed by listening to music you already know and find pleasing. Sewailam’s voice became his salve.
Six months later, the scars on his wrists are healed and the in-demand bass has spent just two days back in Boulder due to a hectic performing schedule in New York, Boston, San Diego and North Carolina, and a visit to family in Cairo. He’s in Auckland to sing one of his favourite roles, Alidoro, in NZ Opera’s production of La Cenerentola. He needs strong arms. At one point, he lifts Cinderella from the floor.
Rossini’s take on the classic story strips away the magic and portrays Cinderella as a feisty character. Not that it isn’t still a fairytale.
“We need fairytales,” says Sewailam. “Because of the cynicism of our world, we need hope more than ever. You look at every realm, professional or personal, and see people who go from desperate situations into triumphant outcomes.”
He’s has gone through his own transformation. While an architecture student in Egypt, he was in the chorus of a production of Aida at the pyramids when he had an epiphany and knew opera, not buildings, would be his life’s work.
He’s been looking forward to returning to Auckland since performing Rigoletto here in 2012. Within hours of touching down, he posted a photo on Facebook of the chicken dukkah burger at Mezze Bar, captioned “one of my favourite places in the world”.
“It’s brilliant food,” says Sewailam. “I’ve been waiting three years to go back there.”
Photo: Georgia Bramley.
NZ Opera: La Cenerentola, ASB Theatre, May 30 and June 3, 5 and 7. nzopera.com