The Muscat Opera House seen from the official driveway. Photo NeilvdL.

 

Muscat’s Opera House opened in October 2011. The building is a somewhat Orientalist fusion of Omani tradition and modernity. It was named Muscat’s Arabian monument to a Western art. The construction was expensive, and some criticism was voiced locally concerning the construction and opening budgets. For more on this, see the article ‘Oman’s new opera house sparks debate’ in the UAE’s ‘The National’ through the link in the sidebar.

In line with its name, it presents opera and ballet productions, for the moment all imported from abroad, with in some cases the Royal Oman Symphony Orchestra accompanying. The 2012-2013 season sees four guest productions, including Aida, La Bohème and Madama Butterfly.

Most performances are concerts. This includes Western classical music (for the 2012/13 season, for instance, including the British Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, the renowned tenor Roberto Alagna, the BBC Symphony Orchestra and the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra), ‘light’ Western classical-crossover music, jazz (such as Wynton Marsalis), ‘World music’ like Youssou N’Dour, Arabic music, for instance Hiba Kawas, a popular Lebanese singer and composer, and performances of Indian music and dance. Regarding the last: Oman is perhaps the first of the Gulf States to almost fully integrate Indian cultural events in its artistic programs; this has been the case since years.  Some of the most influential serious Indian musicians, like Zakir Hussain and L. Subramaniam, perform in the Opera House programming, .

The Opera House’s board of directors is chaired by Dr. Rawya Al Busaidi, Minister of Higher Education. On a daily basis, acting CEO Brett Egan runs the artistic program and Issam El Mallah is head of programming.

Western classical music is a personal passion of Sultan Qaboos , who, already 25 years ago, established the Royal Oman Symphony Orchestra that is now based in the Royal Opera House. Unlike all initiatives to establish larger orchestras in the Gulf States, the Royal Oman Symphony Orchestra consists of members coming from the country’s own population. The first performance took place in 1987, which means that there has been long-term planning behind the orchestra. In this respect, the orchestra’s model resembles that of Venezuela’s famous Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra, which is only slightly older than the Omani orchestra and now is the internationally acknowledged benchmark model in this field. There is the same underlying idea: provide young people with a chance to develop themselves, their personality and their artistic skills. Even if they do not become professional musicians, this will give them an asset in life, and meanwhile an orchestra can be assembled from among the best young musicians. The reason that such a model has been more successful in Oman than in the other Gulf States, is that the country is more populous, that it has a longer-standing urbanized tradition, and that it is less wealthy than the other states, thus having to involve its own population in many more aspects of society than is common practice in the other Gulf States.  A home-grown rather than an imported workforce has always been an economic imperative for the Sultanate. The result is an Omani orchestra that is embedded in the nation.

The artistic programmer, Dr. Issam El Mellah, is an expert on both Western and Arabic music, including the many kinds of traditional music of Oman.

 

Written by: Neil Last modified: 8th Nov 2012
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