What impact will the Dubai Opera have on the future of arts and culture in the UAE?

The new venue will provide the perfect venue for a wide variety of performers, including the finest orchestras, ballet troupes, opera singers and dancers.

Artist’s impressions of Dubai Opera. The venue opens on Wednesday, August 31. Courtesy Emaar
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World-class shopping, five-star hotels and year-round sunshine – there are many things that make the UAE one of the world’s most attractive destinations for expats and tourists. Performing arts, however, have perhaps lagged a little behind the development of other attractions. Until now.

Dubai Opera opens its doors on Wednesday, August 31, heralding a new era for entertainment in the emirate. The new venue will provide the perfect venue for a wide variety of performers, including the finest orchestras, ballet troupes, opera singers and dancers.

But how exactly will this historic arts complex, based in Downtown Dubai, satisfy the country’s many artistic cravings?

"In more ways than one," says Liz Koops, the chief executive of Broadway Entertainment Group, which owns the rights to bring major international musicals to Dubai, including Shrek, Beauty and the Beast and Cats.

“This is a very exciting time for the country. Residents can now see world-class entertainment in a world-class venue without the need to travel to London or New York.

“It will also unite nationalities, as families from different cultures come together to watch their favourite shows.”

But it is not only residents that Dubai Opera is hoping to attract. Thousands of visitors from across the region and beyond are expected to travel to the UAE to watch outstanding performances by some of the world’s most sought-after artists.

Acclaimed tenor Plácido Domingo kicks off a diverse line-up of 49 concerts and shows scheduled for the venue’s first four months.

In a nod to the UAE's pearl-diving history, the second show at the new venue, on Thursday and Saturday), is The Pearl Fishers – an opera by Georges Bizet, performed by Fondazione Teatro Lirico Giuseppe Verdi from ­Trieste in Italy. It will be followed by a wide variety of orchestral performances, Indian classical music, ballet, flamenco and a magic show.

Other highlights include performances by legendary tenor José Carreras on October 4 and 8 as part of A Life in Music, his final world tour.

Arab pop will also be represented, when singer Hussein Al Jassmi takes centre stage on October 10. With more than 500 million YouTube views, the composer and songwriter will be the first Emirati to perform at the 2,000-capacity venue.

“I feel quite honoured to be recognised as the first international Emirati artist to take the stage at Dubai Opera,” he says.

“It is such an important musical and cultural platform. It has its own style that is different to any other theatre.”

Designed in the shape of a traditional dhow boat, Dubai Opera spans 5,798 sq metres and is made of steel and glass.

Chief executive Jasper Hope, who previously led London’s Royal Albert Hall for seven years, wants the people who live and work in Dubai to be proud of the building as an addition to their city.

"We are bringing world-class performers to Dubai who will appeal to residents and tourists alike, and will help broaden even further the incredible international appeal of Dubai," he told The National earlier this year.

Dubai Opera is “for the region and the world”, he adds.

For many, the potential cultural benefits run much deeper than the physical addition of an outstanding venue and the enjoyment that the constant stream of shows will inevitably bring.

Koops believes Dubai Opera will help to inspire children growing up in the UAE to pursue careers in the performing arts, and that as the demand for specialist teachers increases so, too, will the need for dedicated learning centres.

Having toured with shows in more than 37 countries, she says that summer schools for young aspiring performing artists might ­become a thing of the future.

“Dubai Opera will encourage children to know that there are options and possibilities in performing arts, which to date have been lacking in the UAE,” she adds. “There’s the hope that will evolve into summer and vacation schools.”

Rashed Al Nuaimi, an Emirati pop and jazz singer, also believes Dubai Opera will ­create many new opportunities for young ­people.

“If you grow up without performing arts, pursuing a career in the field is a far-fetched dream – you want to do it but it’s too hard,” he says. “­Dubai Opera will make these dreams so much more realistic.

“It will bring opportunity and make the spark in children shine brighter.”

Al Nuaimi believes that Dubai Opera will also provide a much-needed boost for smaller venues in the UAE, which could end up hosting host more shows to bigger audiences, and will nurture up-and-coming local artists.

“There is so much talent here but it’s s not being utilised – anyone who has passion and talent should be taken under the wing of Dubai Opera,” he says.

Les Misérables is one of the world's longest-­running musicals, with the novel on which it is based, by Victor Hugo, taught in many schools around the world. The stage show arrives in Dubai for the first time on November 10, featuring stars from the West End and Broadway runs.

"Books such as Les Misérables are part of the education curriculum in some schools here and how great is it to be able to see the story come to life on stage in the emirate?" says Ali Haidary, founder and chief executive of Dubai-based Sport & Entertainment Solutions, which is bringing the musical to the new venue.

“Dubai is no longer just a city in the Middle East. It is now up there with cities such as New York, London and Paris.”

One Dubai resident who is particularly excited to see Les Misérables is Kate Bell, 42, from the United Kingdom. She has already booked her ticket and says she will "get glammed up" before attending the musical with a group of friends, after dinner and drinks.

"I've never seen Les Misérables before, not even the movie," she says. "I wanted to see the live show first and now I have the opportunity to do that without spending thousands of dirhams to fly to a foreign country. It's here on my doorstep."

A huge fan of the arts, the public-relations professional is particularly excited about the opening of Dubai Opera, which she believes will give all nationalities the opportunity to share in an exchange of culture, music and art “at a time when we ­desperately need it”.

“The best way to understand people is to immerse yourself in their cultures,” she says, “and if we can learn more about the Arab world through their culture, and share a bit of the West with the Arab world, then that’s not a bad thing. I hope they bring more Arab shows.”

Khalil Ghadri, the managing director of KG Production & Events, a Dubai booking agency with more than 300 Arab artists on its books, says: “Dubai Opera gives direction to the UAE’s performing arts industry.

“There are few artists in the country on a level to perform in the opera house but that should change as the venue teaches us new standards and pushes us to prepare artists to be good enough”.

So will we see world-class Emirati artists emerging in the next few years?

“Absolutely,” he says. “And maybe in as little as two years.

“Dubai already has a big name on the world stage but it isn’t just about shopping malls anymore. Dubai Opera is part of the city’s growth. It’s another piece of the puzzle.”