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Religious festivals, theatre and drama in Arab and Ottoman lands
Although formal European-style theatre was unknown to Arab and Ottoman audiences before the 19th century, folk performances were not.
Sufi and Shi’ite groups put on performances during religious festivities that involved religious dances accompanied by songs and music, and folk theatre (shadow and puppet theatre) side-shows provided entertainment for younger participants of the festivities. When drama and opera theatres began to appear in Arab and Ottoman lands in the second half of the 19th century, they were built by the elite for the elite. The first attempts to stage classical European dramas were commenced by Jurji Abyad (Lebanon) and his troupe. His theatre opened in 1912 with Oedipus and Othello, translated into Arabic by Lebanese colleagues Farah Antun and Khalil Mutran respectively. Palatial theatres in the Ottoman context were inaugurated in Yıldız (1859) and Dolmabahçe (1889). The Azbakiyya Theatre was founded in 1867, followed shortly after by the Cairo Opera House in 1868.
Portrait of Ahmad Faris al-Shidyaq

19th century

“A`lam fi Zakirat Lubnan”, Ba`abda, Lebanon

Oil painting

Ahmad Faris al-Shidyaq (1804‒87) was born to a Maronite family in Lebanon. During the early part of his career, collaborating with Dr Samuel Lee to translate the Bible into Arabic, he worked in Egypt, Malta and London. In 1855, al-Shidyaq moved to Tunis to become editor of Al-Rai’d al-Tunisi, the country’s national newspaper. He then left to go to Istanbul to take up a post as corrector of the Government Press, where he also launched his weekly Arabic-language magazine Al-Jawa’ib.

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