ABU DHABI // A full performance of the opera La Bohème. An adaptation of a violin concerto for the oud performed by Naseer Shamma. Principal ballet dancers from the Bolshoi Theatre. Those are among the ambitious events scheduled to take the stage during the seventh annual Abu Dhabi Festival next month. The line-up, announced yesterday, will also feature a comprehensive community programme for all seven emirates.
Hoda Kanoo, the founder of Abu Dhabi Music and Arts Foundation, the sponsor of the festival, said the programme was the most ambitious to date. "Every year we bring the emirates together because by supporting each other it makes the objective of inspiring creativity and contributing to the wider arts scene easier," she said. "There is an appetite for the performing and visual arts growing very fast in the UAE and when you present these arts with the dignity they deserve it is easy to see why.
"No matter what identity you are, music is universal; it connects with the soul." The festival opens on March 20 with a performance by the National Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the death of Chopin. Later that week audiences will be able to see The Sound of Music performed by puppetry experts from the Salzburg Marionette Theatre, and La Bohème, performed by the Italian Puccini Opera Festival for the first time in the Middle East.
"We have worked very hard to adapt the stage at the Emirates Palace to accommodate the 180 performers on stage and in the orchestra," Mrs Kanoo said, referring to the production of La Bohéme. During the second week of the festival Arabic musicians from around the region will unite in performances that Hiba al Kawas, a composer, conductor and opera singer, described as "unique". Ms al Kawas will be conducting a joint performance by the Cairo Symphony Orchestra and the Lebanese National Orchestra of specially adapted songs by Wadih el Safi, the 89-year-old Lebanese artist.
El Safi, she said, created a new musical tradition with his songs based on Arabic folklore. She had attempted to highlight that in the repertoire she composed for the Arab orchestras. Shamma, the renowned oud player, will be performing a rendition of Paganini's Caprice No. 24. "This is a challenge for even the most accomplished of violinists," Ms al Kawas said. "So it is courageous for Naseer Shamma to take this piece on. It will be a memorable show."
Other highlights of the festival include a travelling storyteller, or hakawati, who will be giving performances in all the emirates; a photography competition in Fujairah; and musical arts workshops for children with special needs. The London Symphony Orchestra will close the festival on April 7. Tickets for the festival are on sale from today and can be bought via www.timeouttickets.com or at Spinneys Umm Suqueim, Dubai.