A West End musical on Umm Kulthum's life is coming to Dubai Opera

The production will be in English with songs performed in Arabic

Syrian singer Lubana Al-Quntar performs in the title role of 'Umm Kulthum & The Golden Era' during the show's London West End premiere in March 2020. Photo: Dubai Opera
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An Umm Kulthum musical is coming to Dubai Opera for the Eid Al Fitr holidays.

Being staged at the Downtown Dubai venue from May 3 to 5, Umm Kulthum & The Golden Era will make its regional premiere after being launched with a one-off show at the London Palladium in the West End in 2020.

Written by Saudi Arabia's Mona Khashoggi, the English show will trace the life of the singer, born Fatima Ebrahim Al Sayyid Al Biltaji, from her poor upbringing in rural Egypt to her rise as one of the world’s greatest singers.

Featuring many of her signature tracks (sung in Arabic with English subtitles), such as Enta Omri, Alf Leila We Leila, Fakarouni and Al Atlal, the work also explores how Umm Kulthum not only managed to capture the tumultuous and revolutionary period facing the Arab world during her five-decade career, which began in the 1920s, but also how she reached the top of what was then a male-dominated Arabic music industry.

'Umm Kulthum & The Golden Era' will look at how the singer reached the top of the male-dominated Arabic music industry. Photo: Dubai Opera

The Dubai show will be a homecoming for Khashoggi, who wrote the musical with the aim of taking the production internationally.

Born in Jeddah, Khashoggi relocated to London and her career found her focusing on reviving cultural stories from the Middle East for a global audience.

Her other projects include being a consultant to UK photographic institute Photo London and Jeddah's Hafez Gallery.

In an interview with The National prior to the London premiere, Khashoggi said she hoped Umm Kulthum & The Golden Era will become a key cultural export from the Arab world.

"Why don't we have something like Mamma Mia! about our culture?" She said the region has "so many great stories to tell".

'Umm Kulthum & The Golden Era' traces the life of one of the Arab world's greatest singers. Photo: Dubai Opera

As for the two-hour production, Khashoggi said it will be split into two acts.

The first focuses on the singer's humble upbringing and being inspired by the religious recitations of her father, the imam of the local mosque.

The second act will look at Umm Kulthum's road to fame and her collaborations with pre-eminent composers and lyricists such as Baligh Hamdi and Morsi Jamil Azizi.

More than the timeless songs, Khashoggi wants a new generation of international audiences to appreciate the success and struggles of one of the Arab world’s greatest cultural personalities.

As she told The National before the curtain fell for what was a well-received London show, she is confident Umm Kulthum’s music will translate anywhere in the world.

“I chose Umm Kulthum because I'm obsessed with her. I once played her music in a room full of westerners and everyone was enchanted."

Umm Kulthum & The Golden Era will be performed at Dubai Opera, May 3 to 5. Show starts at 8pm. Tickets begin from Dh350 at dubaiopera.com

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Updated: March 17, 2022, 11:58 AM