Dubai Opera sounds high note in Middle East’s cultural scene
Dubai - Dubai has joined Milan, London, Sydney, Paris and Moscow by opening its own opera house with an inaugural performance by Placido Domingo, one of the world’s most prestigious tenors, to a sold-out house of 2,000.
Domingo opened with Richard Wagner’s overture from Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg. Accompanying him were soprano Ana Maria Martinez and the 65-piece orchestra from the Trieste opera house in Italy.
Reflecting Dubai’s resolve to forge its own cultural identity, Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammad bin Rashid al-Maktoum visited the Dubai Opera during opening concert rehearsals and the formal opening.
He issued a statement expressing satisfaction with the momentum of the UAE cultural scene, which he said will reflect positively on the community and “encourage them to engage in diverse cultural activities”.
“Culture is a key part of our life and represents the cornerstone of building societies. It is also the mirror that reflects the prosperity of community members and the momentum that drives us towards more innovation and excellence,” he said.
Hoda Al Khamis-Kanoo, the founder of Abu Dhabi Music & Arts Foundation (ADMAF), said: “We are very excited by the new Dubai Opera as this will bring a permanent home for the performing arts in Dubai.”
Kanoo has been organising classical concerts in Abu Dhabi for years.
“The Abu Dhabi Festival, in its mission to perform in all the seven Emirates, looks forward to work closely together with the Dubai Opera to co-commission new works, perform classic favourites with the aim to enrich culture for all,” she said.
An arts aficionado and Dubai resident, who had a pre-inaugural peek and an opportunity to attend an invited rehearsal, and who wished not to be named, said: “The Dubai Opera stays true to the aesthetics of the city. It is not overtly European in its design which is a nice touch. The dhow [wooden vessels that ply the Gulf waters] theme runs throughout, with even the balconies in the theatre made to look as though they are ship’s hulls protruding from the walls.
“I was a little disappointed with the seating and the flooring, which did make the opera hall feel a tad make-shift but, all-in-all, it was a great experience and a beautiful building!”
“I’ve never attended an opera before and so I enjoyed the experience, even though it really was not my cup of tea,” she said. “One very nice touch was the addition of a screen above the stage that accompanied the performance with Arabic and English subtitles. I watched an Italian-language opera called The Barber of Seville.
A Dubai expatriate and music lover, Sarakshi Rai said she was overwhelmed by the opening performance. “Domingo was absolutely fantastic. Even at 75 years (old), he was at his best and in the second half had the crowd singing along to popular Broadway hits from My Fair Lady and West Side Story. The audience did not want to leave and he performed for 30 minutes more,” she said.
Rai had tried to book the ticket for the inaugural concert in April but was unsuccessful as the show was sold out within three hours of the box office opening. Disappointed but determined, she put her name on the wait list. Three weeks before the opening she received notification that she could book a ticket online.
Rai said she was impressed by the acoustics, interior and the overall ambience of the venue, which she described as beautiful.
“As you walk in from the Mohammed Bin Rashid Boulevard in the Opera District and reach the opera venue, multicoloured fountains and the sculptural name board at the entrance greets the visitor,” she said, and “the design on the outside and the inside has the look of a dhow, with Intricate carvings on the walls and the plush seating for 2,000 people, adding to the luxury.”
Work on the Dubai Opera project began four years ago with a competition that was won by international architectural firm Atkins. The project broke ground in May 2013 and it took about three years to construct the building. The end product is a stunning glass structure in Dubai’s heart of commerce, leisure and entertainment area. The lobby boasts 360-degree views and the glass roof acts as a fifth façade.
The structure’s been innovatively designed so that it can appropriately host opera, theatre, concert, exhibition, banquet and conference occasions. This is possible through the use of electronically moving floors, walls and ceilings that allow the auditorium configuration to change.
Jasper Hope, chief executive of Dubai Opera, who was earlier chief operating officer of the Royal Albert Hall in London, has attracted top acts from across the globe to Dubai.
Hope has drawn up a busy calendar with The Pearl Fishers, The Barber of Seville, Opera Without Words, Coppélia, Giselle, Postcards from Vienna, Mozart Gala, Impossible, José Carreras, Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, Sara Baras, Anoushka Shankar, Bejart Ballet Lausanne, The Nutcracker on Ice, Slava’s Snowshow and West Side Story already scheduled.
“We are very much looking forward to welcoming many more people to the venue over the next few days, weeks and months and firmly intend for Dubai Opera to make a major and lasting contribution,” he said.