The Royal Opera House Muscat's 2012 autumn season kicks off today and it's looking more eclectic than ever. With children's theatre, grand opera, Uzbek Sufi music, dancing toys and French orchestral jazz as just a few of the pleasures due this autumn, you could never accuse the house of being a one-trick pony.
Among the mix of high art and razzmatazz, however, there's a cultural expression of the globalised network in which Gulf states operate. It does all this while remaining an asset for the local community - as the ROHM's interim chief executive Brett Egan puts it: "This house is, and remains, primarily a venue for Omanis to engage in dialogue with each other and the world, with culture at the centre of that conversation."
Here is a roundup of some highlights to look out for.
Oman's opera fans get a rich dose of Italian opera this season, with two Verdi operas, one by Puccini (La Bohème) arriving on stage before the New Year. The delectable La Bohème (performed on November 3 and 4) will be the highlight for many; a bittersweet tale of artistic life in Paris that remains the most performed opera in the world. People who have seen La Bohème before, however, might prefer Opéra de Nice's production of Verdi's Simon Boccanegra (from December 13 to 15). It is a tale of medieval Italian intrigue with stirring music.
Music of the Islamic world
The delicacy and virtuoso skills required by Arabic classical music often work brilliantly in concert halls, and the oud players Ahmed Fathi and Safwan Bahlawan should bring the house down when they perform on September 27. The ROHM will nonetheless be pushing beyond the Arabic Middle Eastern repertoire this season, with a performance of Sufi music from as far afield as Pakistan and Uzbekistan on October 20.
With marquee names such as the veteran US soprano Jessye Norman and the opera superstar tenor Roberto Alagna both performing this October, the recitals section might just be the strongest. There are also some intriguing crossovers, with London's Royal Philharmonic Orchestra playing their own versions of Broadway show tunes on September 21 and the Munich Percussion Ensemble's many Egyptian performers staging a percussion-driven evening on October 3.
Voyage to India
Oman is giving a special spotlight to South Asian culture this season. Perhaps most striking is The Manganiyar Seduction, a musical extravaganza from the director Roysten Abel on November 29 and 30 that brings Muslim musicians from India's Thar desert onstage and places them in stacks of glass-fronted boxes. More sober but no less ambitious is Nine Jewels of India, a performance on September 29 and 30 that combines classical Indian music, song and storytelling to create an environmental message.
You'd have to have a heart of stone not to be won over by Tchaikovsky's wonderful Nutcracker. Featuring a host of toys dancing to the catchiest, most tuneful ballet music ever, Muscat's staging of a Moscow Classical Ballet production from December 26 to 28 should make the house feel especially seasonal. The forthcoming dance shows aren't all sugar and spice, though. On November 12 and 13, Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montreal is staging works choreographed to the music of ballet's spikiest great composer, Stravinsky. The Russian's exciting ballet music sometimes caused riots when it was premiered a century back.
Muscat's offerings take a French turn on September 25 when Michel Legrand (best known outside France for the song The Windmills of Your Mind) takes the stage to perform and conduct his own music. Children and families will love the October 9 to 11 performances of The Music Man, an award-winning musical that follows a swindling con man who meets his match in an unlikely guise.
For the full programme and to purchase tickets, visit www.rohmuscat.org.om.
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