Magnificent. That is the first word that comes to mind when taking a seat at the new Dubai Opera.
For months, Janus Rostock’s already iconic dhow-shaped structure has been tantalising curious minds, punctuating the Downtown Dubai skyline – but guests had their first taste of the interior at Wednesday’s grand opening.
The timelessly traditional auditorium exudes a sense of grandeur, with golden surfaces, gleaming lights and rows of plush red seats spiralling up to the stars. Artfully arching up to the building’s third tier, with glitzy VIP boxes sprouting from the side walls, the 2,000 capacity room manages to feel more intimate and inclusive than the spacious expanse of the 1,100-seater Emirates Palace Auditorium.
For any music lover, though, the true test is in the acoustics – and early feedback has been incredibly positive.
Plácido Domingo was highly complimentary, while midway through rehearsals, Stefano Pace, chief executive of the visiting Fondazione Teatro Lirico Giuseppe Verdi orchestra, reveals that the sound is beyond anything he expected.
“The acoustics are some of the best I’ve heard at any opening,” he says. “I’m very surprised, I didn’t expect that.”
In a rebuke to stuffy opera clichÃ©s – and in a daring juxtaposition with the conservatively flavoured main room – the lobby area sports a clean, ultra-modern sheen. Marked by sharp, white surfaces, translucent globed chandeliers and futuristic amber lighting strips, in daylight hours the airy space is flooded with swathes of natural light streaming through the dhow’s glass exterior.
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What really counts, of course, is what happens on the stage. On the eve of the grand opening, chief executive Jasper Hope renewed a pledge to host “not less” than 200 performances in the venue’s first 365 days – adding he was confident the “majority will sell out”.
After seven years leading London’s lofty Albert Hall, Hope is refreshingly pragmatic, stressing the need to appeal to “every one of the 200 nationalities” that call Dubai home.
“Every night, I won’t be watching the stage, I will be watching the audience,” he says. “This venue is so flexible, we can deal with any kind of show from any country – I can’t think of anything we can’t do in this space.
“The challenge now is to deliver, to give people what they want – and in a place like Dubai, that is no mean feat. Can we provide a programme that represents everyone here?”
In his opening weeks, Hope makes a start with a programme ranging from classical orchestras and Russian ballet to Arabic music legends and family shows.
But the 47-year-old promises an even broader canvas moving into next year, with half of the 2017 programme already signed up, and almost a third of 2018’s calendar planned. External promoters have also been invited to host events – further broadening the potential for big names.
Proof of the venue’s technical malleability came with recent news that Dubai Opera will host the global PSA Dubai World Series Finals squash tournament in 2017 and 2018.
Amid all the excitement and idiosyncrasy, it is refreshing to learn the question Hope faces most often – what should audiences wear?
There is no official dress code, he says, adding tactfully that he will be decked out in black tie.
“All we ask is that when people come to Dubai Opera they realise it’s a fun night out – but it’s special,” he says.
“It’s a special place and we want people to feel special. And for some people, part of feeling special is looking good.”
Source: art & life