When Makhar Vaziev, the artistic director of Milan's Scala Ballet, first received an invitation for the company to perform at a new opera house in Muscat, he admits he drew a blank.
Honestly, when we received the invitation from Oman, we weren't sure what to do because we really didn't know anything about the place. In my time with both the Scala and [St Petersburg's] Mariinsky ballet I have never been involved in a performance in the Gulf before. It's completely new for me.”
Oman's brand-new Royal Opera House will stage its first performance at a gala on Friday, October 14. Cairo and Damascus are the only cities in the region that have opera houses worth the name – even cosmopolitan Beirut's former house is now a Virgin Megastore. Against this backdrop, Oman's new state-of-the-art, 1,100-seater venue's arrival seems exotic. Vaziev adds,
When we asked around before our engagement to perform Giselle, we heard such fantastic things about Oman, about the new opera house, its repertoire and the level of the performers there, that we became very enthusiastic indeed. It's our first time in Oman, but we really hope it isn't our last”
Aesthetically, the new opera house is a hit too. Marrying the classic hump-backed opera house silhouette (necessary to fit in drop-down scenery) with a fringe of fort-like towers and cool colonnades, it's an imposing but human structure that incorporates Omani architectural traditions elegantly. Inside, its auditorium benefits from a loose, adjustable shell so that the stage's proscenium arch can be expanded or reduced to fit a production's scale.
By world opera-house standards, ROH Muscat's vast-sounding capacity of 1,100 spectators is actually fairly small. Paris's Opera Garnier can house 2,200, while the New York Met seats a massive 3,800 people at full capacity. Muscat's more modest proportions need not be a drawback, however. They mean that even people sitting in the cheaper seats will get a decent view – not the case in vast auditoriums such as the Moscow Bolshoi.
Muscat's first season has been carefully chosen, with a big name-packed schedule that mixes art forms from across the world and spans both high and popular culture. Alongside peaks from western art such as the Mariinsky Ballet performing Swan Lake and the American cellist Yo Yo Ma playing Dvorák with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, the programme also explores beyond the European tradition.
Among non-western performers, it includes the Universal Ballet of Korea and the Egyptian singer Riham Abdul Hakim performing the music of Oum Kalthoum. And while star billing goes to Domingo and Renee Fleming (arguably America's finest soprano) for gala concerts, it is not limited to a strict operatic or classical repertoire, introducing the veteran jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis and the operatic pop star Bocelli to Oman.
Opera-wise, Muscat's first offerings, Turandot and Carmen, may be popular choices, but they are also, thematically speaking, strong meat.
via The National
Photo: “Muscat's new opera house is an attractive building that combines a traditional fort-like arrangement with the architectural structures required for mounting full-scale productions – by Khalid Busaidi for The National
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano') about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman's Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia' column for Dancing Times magazine.