The grand Opera House in Damascus was built to stage the best artists in the Arab world, but the civil war that has engulfed Syria since 2011 has rendered it useless much of year.
The opera complex – which includes a large opera hall, two smaller theatres and acting, singing and ballet schools – is located in central Damascus, next to the Ministry of Defence and the infamous secret police headquarters, where mortar attacks have become daily occurrence.
Drama student Leen Arbid was passing the building one day when a mortar shell struck the pavement: “When we fell to the ground, at first we didn’t feel anything (…). Then we realised we were bleeding all over. We were takgn to hospital, thank God we got first aid and surgery,” she said.
Recently, several mortar shells slammed into a school in central Damascus, killing more than a dozen people, including children, and wounding many more. Members of the Opera House were among them.
“Some of them were immediately killed, some of them were taken to the hospital and died later,” said Opera House director Lama Sallouh. “(It’s a) very bad feeling to you see your friends and your colleagues, with whom you’ve worked for 10 years, just dying in front of you.”
“It’s not easy to play when you hear, every day, people are dying, children are losing their lives, we are hearing bombs on the opera house,” said the Symphony Orchestra conductor Missak Baghboudarian. “We lost our colleagues, we lost friends. But we have to continue our life.”
Despite the situation, concerts and plays continue to be staged at the Opera House, although more sporadically and with a skeleton staff.