Songs spanning two centuries opened the Abu Dhabi Festival on Wednesday.
Back to a full programme of live performances after three years, the annual music and arts festival returned to Emirates Palace with Peruvian tenor Juan Diego Florez performing a sweeping set ranging from 18th-century works by opera composers Gaetano Donizetti and Gioachino Rossini, to South American folk songs from the 1940s and 1950s.
Florez deservedly received a long, standing ovation from the packed auditorium.
Where other promoters would have breathed a sigh of relief for pulling off such a regionally ambitious show, for the Abu Dhabi Festival it is business as usual.
For nearly 20 years, the event has blazed its own path, bringing some of the world’s most influential musicians to Abu Dhabi, while displaying what the city offers culturally.
Long before the emirate was designated as a City of Music by Unesco, the Abu Dhabi Festival showed its pedigree as an exporter of arts and culture through commissions of innovative works staged in cities including New York, Washington DC, Barcelona and Berlin.
The festival's major events in Abu Dhabi, featuring concerts by celebrated US jazz singer Gregory Porter and Academy Award-winning Chinese-American composer Tan Dun, run until March 20, are the first leg of an expansive international programme with concerts and opera productions planned for the US and Europe.
These events, including a co-production of Richard Wagner's The Flying Dutchman at New York's Metropolitan Opera in May and the Arabic Music Days concert series in Germany in August, arguably planted some of the seeds for Abu Dhabi being named a City of Music, joining the likes of London and Seville.
Founded in 2004 by parent organisation Abu Dhabi Music and Arts Foundation, the festival is renowned for a music programme blending star names with some of the UAE's best talent.
Emirati singer Rashed Al Nuaimi’s impressive duet with Florez on Wednesday is one of many cross-cultural collaborations at the festival.
Other successful collaborations in the past include jazz pioneer Herbie Hancock with Emirati soul singer Hamdan Al Abri in 2014, as well US singer Renee Fleming with Emirati soprano Sara Al Qaiwani that same year.
Such knowledge exchange extends behind the scenes of the festival.
Emirati musicians and students are undertaking masterclasses with select festival artists and professional development courses.
These investments have already borne fruit.
In January, the Abu Dhabi Festival commissioned The Symphony of Three with Emirati co-composer Ihab Dawrish designing a lavish classical music work inspired by the recently opened Abrahamic Family House on Saadiyat Island.
Al Abri, now performing under the name Abri, continues to be an in-demand artist and supported Jason Derulo at Dubai’s Coca-Cola Arena last October.
Al Qaiwani returned to the Abu Dhabi Festival in 2022 with a solo recital, while the masterclasses and workshops have resulted in scores of Emiratis finding work in the media and cultural sector.
With an effect reverberating way beyond the UAE, the Abu Dhabi Festival is well on its way in building a formidable legacy at home and abroad.
More information on the Abu Dhabi Festival is available on www.abudhabifestival.ae