Finishing touches put on Dubai opera house as opening night nears

While Dubai has a reputation for grand construction projects, it has not had a landmark venue for performing arts - until now.

A computer generated image made available by the Dubai Opera House shows the new Opera House in downtown Dubai. Dubai opens its opera house on August 31, 2016. AFP
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DUBAI // A boat-shaped hulk of steel and glass at the foot of the world’s tallest tower, Dubai’s opera house is ready to boost the cultural life of the Gulf’s business hub.

Workers are putting the final touches on the venue, a short walk from the Burj Khalifa, as it prepares to host Spanish tenor Placido Domingo at an opening gala on August 31. The King of Opera will kick off a busy schedule of performances at the arts complex, which will host about 50 concerts in its first four months, including a Broadway musical, Indian classical music, ballet, flamenco, orchestral and a magic show.

While Dubai has a reputation for grand construction projects, it has not had a landmark venue for performing arts – until now.

“Look at everything else Dubai has... now we’re going make it even better,” said Dubai Opera’s chief executive Jasper Hope, former chief operating officer at London’s Royal Albert Hall.

“One of the areas that has been missing for many people is a venue in which to experience brilliant live music,” he said.

Dubai Opera organisers hoped to change that, with performances including Rossini's The Barber of Seville and the Broadway musical West Side Story.

The venue will also host local shows, with Emirati singer Hussain Al Jassmi to perform there in October.

In a nod to Dubai’s long history as a port city, the opera house is shaped like a dhow, a traditional wooden boat used for centuries in Gulf waters.

But the ultra-modern 2,000-seat venue can transform into three modes, operating as a theatre, concert hall and a flat-floored hall suitable for banquets and weddings.

Its developer, Emaar Properties, has not revealed the cost of the opera project.

In the space of decades, Dubai has transformed itself into a centre for trade, travel and tourism.

Spending trillions of dollars earned from oil exports, it put itself on the map with luxury resorts, glittering skyscrapers and artificial islands shaped as palm trees and a world map.

But its cultural scene remained low profile in the business-oriented emirate.

Now, Dubai “has a vision to be one of the top cities in the world”, said the Emirati director of the privately run Centre for Musical Arts (CMA), Tala Badri.

To succeed it has to “present the same things you would get whether you went to London or New York... and that does include performing arts”, she said.

Opera remains very much a cultural import for Gulf Arabs - the only other opera house in the region is in Muscat.

But Dubai’s population is predominantly foreign, including a sizable western community.

Mr Hope said his vision is for the opera house to inspire local artists.

“There are only a handful of musical education, dance education, theatre education projects running right now. I sincerely hope, and we will actively encourage, many more to come out of what we’re doing,” he said.

Ms Badri said she hopes Dubai Opera will help make the emirate a cultural centre.

“The opera house is a great idea, but if you want to fill it, you need to educate a population to understand it,” Ms Badri said.

“At the moment it’s just a facility for hosting things, and it could be so much more.”

* Associated Press