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."
Jeff Fletcher found fame in 1990s
'At times I thought he was me'film
Review: One Direction, Fourmusic
Review: The World of Ice and Firebooks
Film More romcom than S&M
Review: The Imitation Gamefilm
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Tamir Rice: 12-year-old boy playing with fake gun dies after being shot by police in Ohio park
- 2 To help fuel their propaganda machine against the poor, our government has now decided to redefine the word 'welfare'
- 3 Woman opens professional cuddling shop – gets 10,000 customers in first week
- 4 Naked free runner captured in breathtaking photographs above London's streets
- 5 Manchester United named Premier League's loudest fans despite late push by Chelsea according to 'Smart Meter' app
Hitler painting sells for 130,000 euros at auction despite controversy over Nazi dictator's artworks
Strictly Come Dancing results: Steve Backshall sent home after dance off with Sunetra Sarker
Naked free runner captured in breathtaking photographs above London's streets
Marilyn Manson denies involvement in shocking leaked clip of Lana Del Rey rape video
Band Aid 30: 'Do They Know It's Christmas' storms to number one
Rochester by-election: Ukip gains second MP as Tory defector Mark Reckless holds seat
'Beast of Bolsover' Dennis Skinner takes Ukip MP Mark Reckless to task moments after he is sworn in
Rochester by-election: Labour MP Emily Thornberry resigns after posting white van and England flags tweet
The young are the new poor: Sharp increase in number of under-25s living in poverty, while over-65s are better off than ever
France 'blocks' Russian sailors from boarding a warship
Green Party Caroline Lucas interview: 'We could be on the edge of something very big'