Meet KSA’s First Countertenor to Sing in Coro Polifonico Musica

Passion for Opera Music Leads Al-Zahrani to Realize Dreams Despite Odds

Mohammed Khayran Al-Zahrani in the Abu Dhabi Festival (Photo Credit: Mohammed Khayran Al-Zahrani)
Mohammed Khayran Al-Zahrani in the Abu Dhabi Festival (Photo Credit: Mohammed Khayran Al-Zahrani)

Meet KSA’s First Countertenor to Sing in Coro Polifonico Musica

Mohammed Khayran Al-Zahrani dreamed of singing opera, an art that does not resemble his environment and culture. He became one of the first pioneers in performing this art and presenting it to a whole new audience. He encountered many social and cultural obstacles. Today, however, he is an icon of Saudi and Gulf opera music and one of the few who can capably perform this art.


Al-Zahrani, 25, was born in the village of Al-Mandaq in the city of Al-Baha in the south of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Despite the size of his small village, it did not limit his big dreams. After that, he moved to Jeddah to complete his university studies in the medical specialty of “pharmacy,” according to his mother's desire. But his dream of studying and doing what he loves in the field of opera music, made him stop after a while from his medical specialization, but it was not an easy step at all.


Saudi Opera Artist Mohammed Khayran Al-Zahrani Joins Singing Choir in Rome's Largest Church. (Photo Credit: Mohammed Khayran Al-Zahrani)


“There was always a voice inside me telling me that I would be famous in the opera. While I was at home, I was training in isolation from everyone. I used to sing everywhere, in the shower, at university, everywhere. It gave me the power of freedom and expression,” said Al-Zahrani as he began his interesting interview with Majalla.


“What I have reached now is by the grace of God Almighty, and also with my personal training and diligence. I received a professional education that qualifies me to represent my country in the best way,” he added.


About the beginning of his orientation to the field of opera singing, although it is not familiar in Saudi Arabia: “I used to sing opera before I knew that there was an opera in the first place.  I have been singing since I was 16, but I did not take the matter seriously until I sang in front of my schoolmates.  They liked it and from here I began to perform for them their requested favorite songs in an operatic style without knowing that it was operatic. By chance I saw an opera singer on TV and was shocked by the similarities between my voice and his voice, and from there I became acquainted with this art,” Al-Zahrani told Majalla.


The self-taught opera singer pointed out that his entry into this field was not easy, given that it is a new art for the Gulf society, and there were no institutes of academic education, nor voice coaches to provide him with professional training. So, he resorted to self-education, which was a very difficult undertaking: “In addition to the previous difficulties, there were social obstacles, which were the worst. I was attacked by my family for choosing this field, and I was bullied by my friends because it is against custom and tradition.”


At the age of 23, he took up the challenge and went to Italy to break the stereotypes and push boundaries. Al-Zahrani added that the difficulties he faced did not stop even after he moved to Rome to learn opera singing.


The obstacles were many, whether in terms of moral support, financial, or psychological factors as a young man who moved to life in a country that does not speak his language and did not know anyone to guide him to the easy path: "I was going through my problems and obstacles on my own, but I wasn't actually alone. God was with me in every step, and I achieved what I never dreamed of," he said.



And because nothing happens without a reason, the story of his joining Coro Polifonico Musica Creator choir shows that it was something destined: while waiting for a train, there was an old man playing the piano, so he went over to him: “He was playing the piano and it was like a reflex, I just joined him. We performed together and a crowd gathered around us and started cheering. I remember this lady came up to me and asked for my details,” he recalled.

Meanwhile, the woman, who turned out to be from Coro Polifonico Musica Creator choir, later spoke to him and asked him to visit her in the church to meet the musical director. He pointed out that during this meeting he took a music test, and was able to pass it and convince the band's organizers of his talent and so became a member of the band.

After that, Al-Zahrani became the first Saudi opera singer to join the Coro Polifonico Musica Creator choir in Rome, and take the lead in “Ethereal” which was streamed online on the festival's digital platforms. He also performed at a concert at Vatican City which was attended by Pope Francis.

On the extent to which the Saudi and Gulf society in general accepted his talent in light of the lack of any foundation for this art in the Kingdom, Al-Zahrani said: “The Saudi and Gulf society’s acceptance of art in general and opera in particular was difficult in past years, the reason was their fear of everything new, and I was facing criticism from my friends as well as family pressure, because I was deviating from custom and tradition, but in recent years their views and acceptance of arts changed.”


Mohammad Al-Zahrani with the famous Italian Soprano Singer, Nino Lezhava, after the duet “The Prayer” they sang in the Coro Polifonico musica in Rome. (Photo Credit: Mohammed Khayran Al-Zahrani).


As an artist, he took up the challenge to change the cultural narrative: “My goal is to open a school for teaching opera and music in the Kingdom, in order to help those who have talent, the Kingdom will compete with the world in its talent. Opera will be a great addition to the history of Saudi art and will open closed doors.”  

The self-taught opera singer eventually came back to perform in the Kingdom with the launch of Vision 2030, a project through which public events and entertainment are now the norm in Saudi Arabia.

“The art of opera exists in all the languages of the world, so spreading our language and spreading the name of our country is a dissemination of our culture through this art and is support for  Vision 2030, where the art of opera occupies a prominent place in the history of the human arts, as a complex art that contains within it a group of arts and combines them in a unique and amazing harmony,” Al-Zahrani said.

In April 2021, Al-Zahrani performed Aala Wa Amjadu (Sublime &Glorious), composed by Dr. Hiba Al-Kawas, at the 18th Abu Dhabi Festival and the magnificent performance saw wide and positive engagement from the audience.


Saudi opera singer Mohammed Khayran Al-Zahrani. (Photo Credit: Mohammed Khayran Al-Zahrani)


“A countertenor voice is a rare one that can reach very high pitches just like a canary. However, some countertenors, like Mohammed, have a bass vocal ability (baritone) allowing them to reach low pitches as well,” Dr. Hiba Al Kawas said at the time.

Last December, he performed a rendition of Hallelujah “as a solo” at Chiesa di Sant’Ignazio di Loyola in Rome. “IT WAS AMAZING”, he described excitedly.

Regarding what is in store for Al-Zahrani: “I have a lot more coming up. I am planning to bring Italy to Saudi Arabia and Saudi Arabia to Italy, I will reveal details soon,” he concluded.

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