Starting tonight, everything from Bolshoi Ballet to Salzburg marionettes

The Abu Dhabi Festival, a three-week festival of music, dance and performance from all over the world, opens tonight at the Emirates Palace hotel.

ABU DHABI // The Abu Dhabi Festival, a three-week festival of music, dance and performance from all over the world, opens tonight at the Emirates Palace hotel. The festival, in its seventh year, would be the most ambitious to date, according to Hoda al Khamis Kanoo, the founder of Abu Dhabi Music and Arts Foundation, the festival's host.

"With 90 events over three weeks we have some of the world's most prestigious performers coming to Abu Dhabi, but now the festival involves the whole community across all seven emirates," Mrs Kanoo said. The opening gala tonight will feature a performance by the National Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the birth of Frédéric Chopin. It will be conducted by the composer Krzysztof Penderecki, who is making his first appearance in the Middle East.

Later in the week, the festival will present

The Sound of Music,

performed by puppeteers from the Salzburg Marionette Theatre, and its first full-length opera,

La Bohème,

performed by the Italian Puccini Festival Orchestra. Mrs Kanoo said the Emirates Palace stage would be adapted to accommodate the show's 180 performers. In the second week of the festival, dancers from the Bolshoi Ballet will offer a programme including signature dances from Tchaikovsky's

and Prokofiev's Cinderella.

The performance will be in collaboration with the Mariinsky Theatre, from St Petersburg, Russia, and the American Ballet Theatre. Maxim Beloserkovsky, one of the principal dancers from the American Ballet Theatre and the director of the Abu Dhabi performance, said he was looking forward to being in the UAE. Mr Beloserkovsky said he had "always dreamed of finding a way to bring the incredible excitement and exceptional beauty of ballet to a wider audience".

Il Divo, a four-piece male operatic pop-vocal group managed by Simon Cowell, the British reality TV personality, will perform during the final weekend of the festival. Mrs Kanoo hopes to push the musical boundaries of the Abu Dhabi audience. "There is a strong appetite here for this kind of art," she said. "When you present it with the dignity it deserves, the music will reach the soul. It doesn't matter if you don't understand the language, music is universal and the sound has power."

As well as the live performances, a varied schedule of community and education projects are planned, bolstering the ambitions to make the festival a national event. A travelling storyteller, or hakawati, will tour all seven emirates and visiting musicians will spend time in schools helping children with special needs to express themselves through music. A two-day programme with the Art and Medical Institute will explore the healing properties of music and a series of forums from prominent artists and curators will discuss the growth of the arts scene.

Bringing together cultural experts would contribute to the "ever-growing cultural legacy of the UAE", Mrs Kanoo said, adding this was the most important aspect of the festival. The London Symphony Orchestra will close the festival on April 7 with a performance of the overture to Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro, Mendelssohn's violin concerto in E minor - performed with the young German Arabella Steinbacher on the violin - and an interpretation of Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique.