El Nafas,The Breath, is a full-scale opera, an original classical music work, written to be sung in literary, poetic Arabic.

Both poet and composer, Tarik Benouarka, the creator of the opera, draws the inspiration for this unique emblem of his artistic universe from his eastern and western roots; the melodic accents of two worlds join in perfect harmony.
El Nafas is a symphonic merging of Arabian canto alto, its poetry and the profoundness of classical orchestra, personified in this
“Desert Symphony”, a lyrical ode to humanist and universal themes.

Videos, photos and music samples

El Nafas presentation

Show excerpt Alger April 14, 2013

El Nafas – Davout recording – April 2014

El Nafas – Making off Davout recording

The theme

El Nafas is a tragedy, a spiritual and poetical work that explores the themes of fatality and the strength of human willpower, hope and love in the face of destiny.

The story carries us back to a distant past, long before the great revelations, into the heart of a mysterious desert, the Land of the Breath, Bilâd El Nafas. Here, protected by a sanctuary of dunes, live the Free Men, a tribe of nomads in search of the absolute and the custodians of a unique source of wealth: the Science of Dreams, the source of spiritual journeys and transhumance.

The story

In the faraway land of El Nafas lives the Tribe of Free Men, high-ranking Sufis responsible for protecting the secret and richness of life: the science of dreams and journeys of the spirit.

Tragedy and evil attempt to take over this sanctuary offered up to noble spirituality. One moonless night, they get their chance. At the time, Houria, great initiate, married to the tribe’s most inspired wise man is walking in the immensity of the Western desert, nestling her new-born, Selim.
Caught off guard by a man, she thinks she is being attacked and mortally wounds him. Her mistake is fatal : she has just killed Abel, her beloved spouse. The ruthless Agar, promoted Master of dreams on Abel’s death, sentences the poor woman to atone for her crime by abandoning her son to the unknown. Houria dies of grief and her spirit becomes prisoner of Agar’s accomplice, Mina the Queen of Adramuth, land of woe, where souls make amends for their mistakes. Agar the traitor doesn’t stop there and takes advantage of his status to challenge the precious knowledge of the tribe… The science of dreams… Journeys of the spirit…

But an Angel is watching and saves the child, destined to become the heir to the secret of spirit journeys. The angel entrusts him to Okba, the tribe guide, who has remained faithful to the infant’s parents. Selim – whose name means purity and serenity – grows up and follows the path of his history, guided by the benevolent force of El Nafas. Until the day when Agar, corrupt servant and accomplice of evil, believing himself triumphant, sees his enemies’ child, Selim, arriving from the desert. The son of El Nafas will not rest until his land is saved and his mother freed from the torment of her soul.


The libretto is a deeply symbolic and poetical ode.
On stage, the history unfolds in the mise-en-abyme created to expound the major universal themes personified in the opera.
The language of El Nafas is infinitely subtle, carved out of literary Arabic, the fruit of a semantically advanced collaboration and adaptation between the composer Tarik Benouarka and Ms Rima Sleiman, doctor of letters.

The score

The musical score reflects the meeting of two cultures with different yet complementary musical and cultural roots. The result is a romantic, lyrical, melodic and tonal symphony that, scene by scene, provides the colourful bewitching setting for the characters and melodies.

The opera consists of two 75-minute long acts, each with its own overture.
Act I introduces the framework of the story, the characters and the dramatic structure.
Act II continues the storyline with a tragic build-up from one scene to the next, until the dramatic breaking point is reached and the last scene played out.

The author

Tarik Benouarka is a rare musician who inhabits a universe that combines the many colours of East and West with a sensitivity, musicality and imagination perfectly expressed by his unique style.

His path is a humanistic, poetic and musical quest punctuated with lofty meetings and alliances that have shaped his world during a career composed of countless journeys, exemplary in its eclecticism and artistic wealth.

Born in Algiers, he embraced music at the age of 4 in Algeria, before continuing his professional education in France with the study of classical, Arabian and jazz music.
He completed his musical studies at the Evry Academy of Music near Paris where he was awarded first prize twice : instrument and harmonics. Very early on, he discovered the world of the studio and stage, making his first professional recordings and giving his first concerts at the age of 12. Barely 21, he was noticed by some of the great names in cinema and signed several beautiful film scores after which he produced hundreds of documentary and other soundtracks.
As a composer, musician and orchestrator, he has worked with the greatest stars of vocal art and entertainment, from jazz to classical music, and is now an internationally known figure in the world of musical and audiovisual production.

But he is first and foremost a creator, an inspired performer who carries within him a world that goes far beyond conventional borders, a world that he shares with passion.

Score & roles

El Nafas was written for a symphony orchestra and several Arab instruments: the oud, the ney and Arab percussions. The score was written for 8 main lyrical voices covering the full register, a storyteller, a chorus, a contemporary ballet and walk-ons.

Leading female role
Mezzo soprano

Queen of the Night



Leading male role

Female role


Tenor bass

The storyteller


El Nafas can be performed in any setting, whether in an opera house or outdoors.
The scenography reflects the dreamlike character of the work.
It is designed to arouse the imagination by the use of a subtle mix of lighting, images and decorative elements that will evoke the closely interwoven worlds, dimensions and timeframes that are an integral part of the story.

The Breath inspirational worlds

El Nafas Desert and stele emerging from the sand

The obscure world of death and torment, with its ruins, its sky of molten lava and fire and its door to hell

The elsewhere
The world of angels and its archway of light

The past
The world of El Nafas before the tragedy

The dimensions through which Selim passes on his spiritual journeys

Types of production


The operatic work also exists in the form of a 75-minute oratorio. The essential storyline is recounted by four of the characters – Houria, Selim, Mina, Okba – together with the storyteller and the main arias from El Nafas.
Depending on the venue, it can be performed by a small orchestra (Mozart-style), with or without the ballet, and with a smaller choir.


A recital version for 2 pianos and an Arab instrument (duduk), one voice and a storyteller is currently being created. This more intimate one-hour version, combining re-orchestrated musical passages, arias and poetry, would be suitable for a festival or an exceptional setting such as a church or museum.

First performance at the Algiers Opera

First performance of the work in the form of an oratorio at the Algiers Opera in April 2013.

El Nafas was performed for the first time on 14th April 2013 in the form of an oratorio concert at the National Theatre of Algiers, the artist’s birthplace, with the Pasdeloup Orchestra*, conducted by Pierre Dumoussaud, four world-class Arabian performers, including Lebanese opera singer Ghada Chbeir, Egyptian tenor Georges Wanis and Jordanian opera singer Lara Elayyan and the choir of the National Symphonic Orchestra of Algeria in a contemporary production.

In the press

« A grandiose performance »
Le jeune Indépendant

« In this opera everything combines so that the audience be transported with emotion »

« The work of a master goldsmith »
El Watan

« An unique platform for dialogue between different cultures »
Le soir d’Algérie

*state-approved orchestra, subsidised by the city of Paris with the backing of the department of cultural affairs. Violon solo: Ryoko Yano


Show excerpt Alger April 14, 2013
Backstage Alger April 2013
El Nafas presentation
El Nafas premiere in Alger : Algeria press service documentary - April 15, 2013
El Nafas - Rehearsals in Algiers Opera

In line with our philosophy, our shows are produced with the support of national and international companies

who find in us a representative of their values ​​and a way to build an attractive and durable image. We want to especially thank our sponsors for their support of the first El Nafas performance in  National Theatre of Algers April 14, 2013. 

El Nafas – Sponsorship event for Algiers Sofitel

Sharing and Opening

In a commitment and desire to transmit and share, 21-22 and its artists always accompany their creations with an introduction and education to Music and the creative world.

That is how, at the premiere of the opera El nafas in Algiers in April 2013, 400 children were gathered for a master class: one hour of discovery of opera music, instruments and the artists​ through short extracts of the work which were presented by the author, Tarik Benouarka himself.

El Nafas-T.Benouar​ka ​- ​​Encounter with Algiers children