At the College of Music’s commencement ceremony on May 11, we’re thrilled to welcome alumnus Ashraf Sewailam (BM ’94, MM ’96, DMA ’08) back to campus … and to present him our 2023 Distinguished Alumnus Award!
An internationally recognized and prize-winning opera star, Sewailam’s extensive travels reflect his impressive musical résumé with credits that include roles on the world’s most prestigious stages—most recently including the Metropolitan Opera, the New Zealand and Queensland operas, as well as the Seattle, Tulsa and Minnesota operas, the Washington Concert Opera, Opera Carolina and, as director, the Opera Louisiane, San Diego State University and his Opera News-acclaimed New York production of “The Cunning Little Vixen” with the dell’Arte Opera Ensemble. This season, Sewailam further performed with the New Orleans and Pittsburgh operas, and he’s looking forward to directing the Central City Opera’s production of “Othello” this summer.
Sewailam credits his career accomplishments and accolades directly to the education, professional connections and personal relationships he gained while studying at the College of Music. “I couldn’t have started my professional career without having been situated at CU Boulder,” he says.
This May, Sewailam celebrates 20 years as a freelance professional in the United States since his debut with Opera Colorado in 2023, singing the role of “Leporello” in Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “Don Giovanni.”
Previously, Sewailam was a member of the Cairo Opera Company for eight years in his native Egypt and—since launching his professional career in the United Stated in the early 2000s—he’s constantly traveling, bringing his art to new places across the country and the world.
Even so, he always ends up returning to Boulder, to the academic institution where he earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees, and a Doctor of Musical Arts in vocal performance and pedagogy. The College of Music is a place that still holds value and meaning to an artist who’s charmed international audiences with a bass baritone that Opera News calls “purring and velvety, with an easily produced Ramfis-like top range with a majestic tone.”
“Whenever I come to town, the first thing I do is walk down the halls in the Imig Music Building,” he says, adding that his Boulder residence is currently rented out, given his globetrotting schedule. “It’s like going home, more than going to my own apartment.
“In general, the College of Music was a safe space for me, not just a place to study,” he says. “I felt both safe and challenged, which is very important in an academic environment. It’s amazing how much that sense of safety is absent in many places. But at CU Boulder, I thrived.”
In particular, Sewailam notes the supportive influence of now-retired Professor of Voice Patrick Mason, and that early connections at companies like Opera Colorado eventually led to coveted engagements in New York and beyond.
Sewailam’s stunning career stands out for its range. From serving as a voiceover actor for Disney when he was still living in Cairo (Sewilam is quick to offer a sample of his skills, shifting into the high-pitched tones of Mickey Mouse and the sultry notes of Ursula the sea witch in Arabic) to winning over audiences around the world, Sewailam is “one of our most successful voice alums,” according to Associate Professor of Opera Leigh Holman.
As he plans his next career steps, including an increasing focus on directing and playing behind-the-scenes roles, Sewailam maintains close ties to the College of Music. He fondly recalls participating in every student production at the college during his time as a student—whether singing a lead role, building sets or taking a hand in wardrobe and stage management, he found inspiration in every aspect of producing an opera. And he found coaches and mentors that he still communicates with today, and that have led to a successful global network.
While Sewailam’s slate of engagements as a singer and a director is full for the foreseeable future, he doesn’t rule out returning to CU Boulder as a student. “I believe one should never stop learning and if I can find time to study arts administration, I’ll do it. That’s my next frontier.”
Congratulations on your well-earned distinction, Ashraf Sewailam!