Much Ado About Culture

A CULTURAL ICON: Dubai Opera will entertain audience with 200 diverse shows per year, ranging from classic ballet performances to musical plays and pop music.

Dubai Opera to enrich the cultural scene in the emirate and the region

BY Aida Al Busaidy

In a week’s time from now, on August 31 to be exact, Arab and perhaps international opera enthusiasts are set to enjoy the very first show at the inauguration of the Dubai Opera.

Tickets for the opening night at the 2,000 seat theatre with its 31 premium boxes accommodating 184 people in total, are already sold out. And why wouldn’t they be, considering Grammy-winning Spanish tenor Placido Domingo is set to rock the hall. Though it will be Domingo’s fourth time entertaining UAE’s residents and guests, it will be his first time performing in an opera house in the country.

I have to say, as an Emirati with an appetite for trying new things and enjoying new cultural experiences, I’m nervous yet excited. How will it define our lives, taste in music, and perhaps impact our weekly schedule? Will our mall going days be less in favor of attending shows at the new opera house? Will we strive to read more about upcoming performances and their historical backgrounds?

The excitement doubles once you discover that this project almost never saw light. It was cancelled when the international financial crisis hit global and local economies alike. And it wasn’t until four years ago that Emaar Properties, Dubai’s top developer, gave the go ahead to the project.

The dhow-shaped structure from the outside, took 3 years to build in comparison with the Sydney Opera House, which took a little over 25 years to be completed.

With its glass structure comprising nearly 600 lighting fixtures, it is no wonder that Dubai’s newest building will be the crown’s jewel, shining brightly like a thousand stars surrounding its main sun, a 5-tonne chandelier with nearly 3,000 LEDs.
The project was handled by Atkins architects who are behind iconic projects such as the Burj Al Arab Hotel and China’s Huraong Tower.

But Dubai Opera, which is at the heart of a growing cultural and art district in the Downtown area, isn’t the only thing Arabs can take pride in.

The Damascus Opera House built back in 2004 continues to enrich the cultural scene of Syria. In the Arab Gulf region, the Sultanate of Oman’s capital, Muscat boasts its very own Royal Opera House which was completed nearly 5 years ago.

It, too, continues to draw international recognition, particularly as it has its own Royal Orchestra. Bahrain’s National Theatre, which opened in 2012 and hosts a myriad of international artists, isn’t far behind either. Similarly, Qatar’s National Theatre, which dates back to 1982, showcases various theatrical performances.

However, what differentiates Dubai’s Opera House is that it is set to offer diversified shows from classical plays such as “The Barber of Seville” by Rossini, to ballet and musicals; and even host popular regional singing Arab pop sensations such as the much-loved Emirati singer Hussain Al Jasmi. The country’s heritage will also be represented through iconic productions such as “The Pearl Fishers.”

This mélange of cultural events, under one dome and in one place, underlines a key message in Dubai’s vision: to be a meeting point and a melting pot of different cultures and tastes.

Although the total amount spent on creating such an iconic structure and calendar is yet to be revealed, I wouldn’t put a price tag on something as iconic as the Opera House which has an added value to the society.

To educate a population at times, you must entertain them and looking at the next few months, the Dubai Opera has half of its work cut out because the rush to absorb Dubai’s cultural scene is something we’ve all been waiting for.

Meanwhile, going to the opera has always been, and continues to be, depicted as quite an aristocratic and posh activity because the actions and activities that happen in an opera house transcend language and knowledge; it is about connections made and emotions felt.

It is also synonymous to someone who is highly cultured. In the eyes of many, going to the theatre is an acquired taste where one must be interested in the art of music and theater.

One should also tick quite a few boxes, such as being well travelled, having a library full of books that aren’t collecting dust, be educated about the world and its various cultures, along with watching well-written classic films; and last but not least, be very familiar with history.

The list is not exhaustive but it’s certainly the image most of us are accustomed to seeing of people who usually attend the opera.

After all, the Arab Gulf region’s traditional art and music scene is yet to adopt opera on a wider scale and perhaps become a norm.

So how does one acquire such a cultured taste in something that has not traditionally been part of what they grew up accustomed to, especially in the Gulf region, where people are well traveled but less exposed to the art of opera?
Though I had to take the time to reflect on this question, the answer is as clear as daylight. There is not a single person who holds the key to being cultured.

So if you happen to like music, ask yourself the following question: Am I interested in broadening my musical hear-buds? If the answer is yes, why not broaden your horizons, and why not check out a new play for a change and see if it tickles your senses?
It would help you to know that Dubai’s leadership is also keen on having its citizens and residents expanding their cultural exposure. After all, wowing the crowds with a new design, such as that of the opera house, was never the aim. It was an added value.

The real intent is to make cultural events available to all, and spreading this form of art. Perhaps that is why Dubai has made the opera tickets cost-friendly, which is exactly why you will wind up paying less for quality shows. A ticket will cost anywhere between 100 AED ($33.3) and 1000 AED, for the scheduled 200 shows per year.

And in case you did not know, some of the most famous classical music by Beethoven, Strauss, Rossini and many more that are commonly played in opera, have also made their debut in very popular animated movies. For this reason, I’m pretty sure that if you heard these pieces while growing up with cartoons, you’ll experience a nostalgic whirlwind when you are at the opera as an adult.

Aida Al Busaidy is a communications professional with over 13 years of experience in PR & Communications industry in the UAE and a contributing writer to several publications. She is also an entrepreneur and oversees Public Relations and Communications for Festivals and Events at Dubai Tourism.

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