While hype builds for the grand opening of the Dubai Opera next month, our neighbours in Oman are looking forward to ringing in a landmark fifth birthday at the Royal Opera House Muscat.
The GCC’s first opera house, ROHM opened in October 2011 and will soon launch a celebratory sixth season on September 29, with a three-night run of Charles Gounod’s RomÃ©o et Juliette – timed to mark the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death.
But there is far more than opera on offer. The 2016-17 programme ably lives up to its grand title, Excellence in Diversity, presenting a diverse mix of jazz, musicals, family shows, ballet – and a markedly strong Arab selection.
Headline names include opera stars Plácido Domingo and Anna Netrebko, Palestinian pop sensation Mohammed Assaf, Tunisian oud virtuoso Dhafer Youssef, and jazz heavyweights Madeleine Peyroux, Dee Dee Bridgewater and Hugh Masekela.
In total, 40 shows will be presented between September and May. They will all be held in the stunning 1,100-capacity theatre, which forms the heart of an 80,000 square metre complex that includes an auditorium, landscaped gardens, an arts and crafts market and selection of upscale restaurants.
Architecturally, the precinct is designed in an Islamic style with large arches, porches and towers. Local materials were sourced for part of the construction, including Omani desert rose stone. The stunning concert theatre is festooned with bespoke crystal chandeliers and intricate gold leaf inlaid in wooden decorations that are all handcarved.
Beloved works coming to town include Mozart’s Don Giovanni, Beethoven’s glorious Ninth Symphony and Bernstein’s iconic musical, West Side Story.
But for director general Umberto Fanni the highlight will be two debut works. For the first time in its history, ROHM has commissioned two special in-house productions.
Celebrating Oman will run from January 5 to 7. The open-air show is “dedicated to Oman’s modern Renaissance”, features international performers and is designed by Paolo Dalla Sega.
Meanwhile, family-friendly show The Opera! will use a mix of music, video and performance to tell the history of the art form. This co-production with Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia of Valencia will take place from March 16 to 18.
“These two events represent a new departure for the ROHM, which until this season has been almost exclusively a hosting institution,” says the Italian director general.
Following an ongoing tradition, the new season will also include an annual public celebration of Omani Women’s Day, on October 6, and a series of free outdoor Military Music Concerts, from November 3 to 5, held in ROHM’s courtyard. A series of family-themed concerts will also be held during the season.
Throughout the 2015-16 season, ROHM recorded an impressive 84 per cent attendance, according to Fanni.
The “Diversity” pegged in the season’s title is an unapologetic bid to increase its audience even further, he says.
“A core aspect of the mission of the Royal Opera House is to serve the cosmopolitan populations of Muscat and the region, as well as visitors from abroad – and this means diversity in the range, origin and genre of programmes presented each season.”
While chiefs on both sides will likely play down any competition between Dubai’s 2,000-capacity new arrival and Muscat’s smaller, established attraction, it is intriguing to note the number of identical works and performers appearing on both venues’ schedules.
Spanish tenor Domingo will inaugurate the Dubai Opera on August 31 – as he did at ROHM five years earlier – but barely four months will pass before he visits Oman for two shows in January, one as a performer, and the second conducting the Royal Oman Symphony Orchestra.
Anyone who misses Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers or Rossini’s The Barber of Seville at Dubai Opera in September (where both will be performed by the Fondazione Teatro Lirico Giuseppe Verdi of Trieste) can catch rival interpretations in Muscat, brought by the OpÃ©ra Royal de Wallonie of LiÃ¨ge in May and the Orchestra and Chorus of the Opera di Firenze of Florence in February, respectively.
Also onstage in Dubai this September will be the Russian State Ballet and Orchestra of Siberia’s interpretation of Giselle – a much-loved work that also arrives in Muscat in April, thanks to American Ballet Theatre.
Vivaldi’s evergreen Four Seasons perhaps inevitably also crops up on both programmes, with the Europa Galante in Dubai in October and with the I Solisti Veneti in Muscat in March.
And that might just be the start – Dubai Opera has only announced its programme until December, with another batch of big names to be revealed later this year.
Source: art & life