Italian opera finds enthusiastic following in Dubai

As Dubai Opera prepares to open its doors in 2016, interest in classical music, including opera, is growing and international artists are flocking to the emirate

In a spacious ballroom in one of Dubai’s luxury hotels, a culturally diverse crowd sits in anticipation of the first performance at the Italian Opera Gala night. The line up is promising, including some of Italy’s best talents in the genre such as Soprano Susanna Branchini, Mezzo-soprano Renata Lamanda, Tenor Massimiliano Pisapia and Maestro Marco Boemi as the Pianist and Conductor.

The large attendance reflects a growing interest in classical music, including opera, in the emirate. To accommodate larger performances and shows, Dubai is building The Opera District in Downtown Dubai, with Dubai Opera as its centerpiece. Due to open next year, Dubai Opera would have a capacity of 2,000 seats and a multi-format theatre that can be used for opera, concerts, ballet, art exhibitions, orchestra, film, sports events, and other programmes.

'I conducted in many places in the world - in Peru, in Columbia, a lot in Russia, China… and you could see that especially in those places there’s much more hunger for music because people aren’t familiar with it. They want to enjoy it and they are more enthusiastic. Sometimes when you perform in the old continent, it’s not the same because they are used to it'

Marco Boemi, Conductor and pianist

The maestros performing at the Italian Opera Gala are back in the emirate after a two-year absence. Conductor and pianist Marco Boemi says he felt a great deal of warmth and enthusiasm from the audience, attributing that to the novelty of opera in the emirate compared to other cities in Europe.

“I conducted in many places in the world - in Peru, in Columbia, a lot in Russia, China… and you could see that especially in those places there’s much more hunger for music because people aren’t familiar with it. They want to enjoy it and they are more enthusiastic. Sometimes when you perform in the old continent, it’s not the same because they are used to it,” he said. “Here the difference is many people didn’t know what was going to happen.”

The programme included performances of some of the finest works of Giuseppe Verdi, Giacomo Puccini and George Bizet. Even for those with little knowledge of opera, it would’ve been difficult to miss the familiarity of pieces such as La donna è mobile, Scuoti quella fronda di ciliegio from the famous opera Madama Butterfly, La mamma morta and Acerba voluttà.

Following stellar performances, the evening concluded with a standing ovation from the audience, culminating in an additional 20 minutes of performance from the artists.

music opera italian soprano
Mezzo soprano Renata Lamanda says opera always succeeds in speaking to “all kinds of audiences” around the worldImage: The Dubai Concert Committee

Mezzo soprano Renata Lamanda, who was heading to perform in New York next, said opera always succeeds in speaking to “all kinds of audiences” around the world. “This is fantastic because through the music you can bring together all kinds of cultures and different people,” she added.

Just a couple of weeks later, one of Dubai’s main art and music centres, DUCTAC, hosted another opera night. This time, the show was created in Dubai and brought together established Italian opera singers to perform one of Puccini’s most famous works, Madama Butterfly. The opera tells the tragic story of a young Japanese geisha that takes her own life for love. Dubai-based actor and director Alex Broun directed the show, bringing his experience of working with operas in Australia and New Zealand to the emirate.

“It’s rare you get such wonderful singers to come to Dubai,” said Broun. “The audience’s response shows they’re loving it. I think certainly when you see the Dubai Opera opening in 2016 you’ll see more events. People love opera in Dubai and they want to see it.”

With a full theatre at DUCTAC and a packed ballroom at the Italian Opera Gala, it’s not surprising to see a growing number of classical music events coming to the emirate.

In November, Russia’s Moscow City Ballet performed Giselle and The Sleeping Beauty in Dubai. In January, the Paris Opera Ballet Gala will bring French classical ballet to Dubai, with some of its most famous dancers scheduled to perform a selection of classical and contemporary works from the Paris Opera National Collection.