Mariah Carey was the star attraction at the grand opening of the Banyan Tree AlUla on Friday, a luxury resort in the historical Saudi Arabian valley known for its striking rock formations and Unesco World Heritage site Hegra.
Carey's concert at the stunning multi-purpose venue Maraya, the world's largest mirrored building, was followed by a launch ceremony at the resort.
Wearing a glittery black gown and platform pumps, Carey, 52, was in good spirits as she chatted between songs and joked around with the invite-only audience members, who were not allowed to take pictures during the show.
"They gave this venue a great name," she giggled, referring to the similarities between the 500-seater Maraya and her own name.
Flawlessly jumping decades and smoothly transitioning from upbeat to power ballads, Carey began her show with her 1995 hit Fantasy. Joined on stage by three back-up singers and a pianist, she then segued into a medley, fusing her 1997 hit Honey with 1999's Heartbreaker.
Always Be My Baby, from 1996, was then followed by the ballad We Belong Together, from the 2005 album The Emancipation of Mimi, which marked her career resurgence.
Carey took multiple breaks between songs, interacting with the audience, and even going off script.
"I'm not even going to look at that monitor anymore," she said at one point. "We're just going to chill and hang out together and enjoy this evening."
She also summoned her "glam squad" to stage in the middle of the show as she chatted. "You know, others slink into a corner and do this, but hey, I just want to spend this moment with you," she said.
She also shared that the performance in Saudi Arabia was her first time doing a full show in three years. "I performed at the Global Citizen show in September but that was a short show," she said. "So this is the first time I'm actually performing in so many years."
A special moment came when she invited her back-up singer Trey Lorenz for a duet of their beloved cover of the Jackson 5 song I'll Be There. Reliving that memorable MTV Unplugged show and duet that earned the song a No 1 spot, the pair then performed the song, earning one of the night's biggest applause.
Before her show earlier in the evening, Carey also met Saudi musicians at the Maraya and listened to their experiences. She then shared an anecdote of how she wrote Hero earlier in her career. The 1993 inspirational ballad about finding one's strength is still one of her most popular — and was also her final song of the night.
Not quite the powerful vocalist she used to be, Carey has however not lost any of her charm and appeal, making up for any shortcomings with plenty of charisma during her hour-long performance. And reminding the audience how she became one of biggest artists of her generation.
She now joins Andrea Bocelli and Alicia Keys as one of the first international music stars to perform at Maraya. The venue will next host American pop rock band OneRepublic on November 10 and John Legend on November 11.
About the Banyan Tree AlUla
Set in the Ashar Valley a few metres away from Maraya, Banyan Tree AlUla is an all-villa tented resort that puts well-being at its centre. A total of 79 luxury tents are spread across the resort, each inspired by the nomadic lifestyle of the Nabataeans, the travelling traders who settled in the area around the 6th century BC.
The property is the first for Banyan Tree Group, known for its high-end resorts around the world, and was developed by the Royal Commission for AlUla.
Guests can choose from four types of villas — one bedroom, one bedroom with pool, two bedroom with pool or three bedroom with pool — with sizes ranging from 77 square metres to 240 square metres for the three-bedroom.
Two restaurants are operational upon opening, Saffron, the Banyan Tree's famed Thai restaurant, and all-day dining Harrat, which serves international cuisine.
As with all Banyan Tree properties, well-being will be the focus at this resort, with the spa featuring a host of top-notch treatments, including massages inside a cave. The stunning rock pool, which sits between two sandstone mountains, is another highlight.
“The Banyan Tree AlUla opening marks the completion of the final development phase of Ashar Valley, which also houses the world-famous Maraya Hall,” said John Northen, executive director — head of hotels and resorts at the RCU.
“The selection of Banyan Tree to operate this resort was driven by the brand’s synergy with the vision of the Royal Commission for AlUla for the destination. The ethos of Banyan Tree is to provide a sanctuary for the senses in an awe-inspiring location with a great sense of place, which is a perfect match for us in AlUla.”
AlUla is located more than 1,000 kilometres from Riyadh. Historically, it lay on the incense trade route, a land and sea network spanning the Mediterranean, north-eastern Africa, Arabia and India.
The city of Hegra, the second-biggest Nabataean city after Petra, Jordan, is located in AlUla and is the first Unesco World Heritage Site in Saudi Arabia.