Royal Opera House makes its debut in Abu Dhabi
Friday 13 April 2012
First, it was Harrods and then Manchester City football club – now the Gulf is buying culture. Last week, the Royal Opera House (ROH) made its debut in the Gulf, in the culturally thirsty region of the UAE. I decided to pack my bags and head off to the Arab premiere of Beloved Friend at the Emirates Palace, Abu Dhabi, as part of the Abu Dhabi Festival.
Despite the Louvre and Guggenheim projects in the region that will transform Abu Dhabi into a cultural hub, opera is hard to come by in the UAE, which is still far better known for oil than it is for Mozart. Last month, Dubai announced plans for an opera house near Burj Khalifa, the tallest tower in the world. Otherwise, the nearest venue is the Royal Opera House Muscat, in Oman, which opened in October.
Tonight, I'm seated on the stage in a comfy chair for the production, along with an audience of 150 wealthy expats and a few sheikhs. You can hear a pin drop as the small orchestra, a few opera singers, actors and dancers arrive. Inspired by the letters of Russian composer Tchaikovsky to his muse Nadezhda von Meck, whom he never met, the fiery love story, written by Ronald Harwood, was last staged in 2011, at Buckingham Palace in a private performance for Prince Charles.
Not strictly an opera, this dramatised recital in words, music and dance, stars Simon Russell Beale as Tchaikovsky and Harriet Walter as his muse. The highlight is a ballet duet performed by the Royal Ballet's Roberta Marquez and Valeri Hristov who almost brush the audience in the front row.
The ROH shipped out 11 of their production team, including three people from the wig, make-up and costume department.
This is not just about giving a headline performance but also to share their experience and build audiences in the Gulf. The festival's founder and artistic director Mrs Hoda Ibrahim Al Khamis Kanoo, who founded the Abu Dhabi Music and Arts Foundation in 1996, is passionate about nurturing Emirati talent and supporting the cultural renaissance that is storming the region.
Tony Hall, the chief executive of the ROH, says: "This is a story in which opera plays a part – it's giving a showcase of opera. I think that's what you've got to do to get people engaged in opera. It's a difficult art form – to my mind, it's the most passionate of art forms, but you've got to lead people into that carefully and slowly. I think this will excite people about Tchaikovsky. And maybe they will think of trying another opera."
Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treattv
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Isis 'jihadi bride' claims forced sex with Yazidi girls is never rape because Koran condones it
- 2 Woman accidentally shoots herself in the head while posing for a selfie
- 3 Art Garfunkel calls Paul Simon a 'monster' with a Napoleon complex
- 4 Isis burns woman alive for refusing to engage in 'extreme' sex act, UN says
- 5 Puerto Rico, island of lost dreams: People are leaving the debt-hit territory in droves as near neighbour Cuba's star rises
Eurovision 2015: Graham Norton returns with another cutting commentary - his best lines
Game of Thrones rape scene criticised as 'disgusting' by US senator Claire McCaskill who says she's 'done' with show
Art Garfunkel calls Paul Simon a 'monster' with a Napoleon complex
Eurovision 2015 winner: Sweden beats Russia and Italy to take the title from Conchita Wurst
Dheepan, film review: Palme d'Or prize goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head
As a white man, I'm surprised more women aren't tweeting the hashtag #KillAllWhiteMen
Scotland may have to leave the EU even if it votes to stay in, David Cameron confirms
The day that Britain resigned as a global power
Almost a third of school pupils believe 'Muslims are taking over our country', study claims
SNP fury as HS2 finds 'no business case' for taking fast train service to Scotland
Gay marriage 'Bert and Ernie' cake bakery found guilty of discrimination in Northern Ireland