A look back at the illustrious careers of Dubai Opera performers José Carreras and Omar Khairat
Two bona fide music legends will take to the stage at Dubai Opera this week – José Carreras and Omar Khairat.
Spanish tenor Carreras will perform on Tuesday, October 4 and Saturday, October 8, sandwiching a late-night show by Egyptian composer Khairat on Thursday, October 6.
That two such distinguished yet disparate icons will appear at the same venue, just 48 hours apart, speaks volumes about this new venue’s global ethos. This will be hammered home with full shows of classical concertos, flamenco dance, Indian classical-fusion and western and Arab pop – all before next week is out.
In the coming 11 days, the venue will welcome British singer-songwriter James Morrison on Friday, October 7, Emirati star Hussain Al Jassmi on Monday, Italian violinist Fabio Biondi next Tuesday, October 11, Spanish dancer Sara Baras on October 13 and 14 and sitar virtuoso Anoushka Shankar on October 15.
This incredible run of diverse performances is both a crystallisation of Dubai Opera’s community-crossing ambitions, and an open offer to curious listeners to revel in sound to step out of their comfort zones.
It begins Tuesday, October 4 with Carreras, whose visit is part of his globe- trotting A Life in Music farewell tour, after which the 69-year-old tenor will bow out after six decades on the stage. This opening date was added after the Saturday, October 8 concert sold out so quickly.
Inevitably, Carreras’s performance is likely to be compared with his compatriot Plácido Domingo, whose concert inaugurated Dubai Opera on August 31. The great friends and rivals are alumni of The Three Tenors, along with the late Luciano Pavarotti, the game-changing trio who brought opera arias into millions of homes for the first time by way of the football stadium, a fire sparked by performances at four consecutive Fifa World Cups, starting in 1990.
But this was just a lucrative cherry on the cake after years of graft.
Growing up in working-class Barcelona, Carreras both wowed and infuriated his parents with continual singing – he even earned pocket money entertaining customers waiting at his mother’s hairdressing salon. By the age of 8, this precocious talent had performed on national radio.
His opera career began in earnest when he took a first principle adult tenor role in 1970, quickly clocking a total of 24 roles by the time he was 28.
Earning a reputation particularly for Verdi and Puccini, Carreras worked intensely until 1987 when, during the filming of a screen adaptation of La Bohème, he was found to be suffering from acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, and given just a one in 10 chance of survival.
The original Three Tenors concert, at Rome’s Baths of Caracalla to mark the close of the Italia 1990 Fifa World Cup, was conceived as a one-off way to welcome Carreras back to the stage and raise funds for the José Carreras International Leukaemia Foundation. The live recording went on to become the best-selling classical album of all time, shifting an estimated 13 million copies.
Back on the stage and more famous than ever – despite the notorious running joke on hit US sitcom Seinfeld in which Carreras was repeatedly referred as “The Other One” of The Three Tenors – in the 1990s Carreras moved slowly away from performing gruelling full operas in favour of an easier schedule of concerts and recitals featuring art songs, Neapolitan songs and light crossover classical material.
These shows include a memorable appearance at Yas Arena in 2013, performing alongside Welsh mezzo-soprano Katherine Jenkins – who will also sing at Dubai Opera next year as part of the White Nights festival, which runs from March 30 to April 8.
Khairat, meanwhile, is an even more frequent visitor, who in recent years has lit up stages across the Emirates on an annual basis. The Egyptian maestro rarely disappoints, leading his large ensemble through an enviable catalogue of timeless compositions.
Born in Cairo in 1948 – just two years Carreras’s junior – Khairat has built up an equally impressive reputation in the Arab world and beyond.
Like Carreras, his career also got off to an early start. In 1959, he was among the first intake of students at the Cairo Conservatoire, where his father, Abu Bakr Khairat – one of Egypt’s earliest significant classical composers – was the first dean.
Khairat later studied at London’s Trinity College, and it is this distinctive combination of western classical instrumentation and form with Arabic scales, rhythms and traditions that makes his orchestral instrumentals so enduring. Since the early 1980s, Khairat has built an acclaimed repertoire of soundtrack and symphonic works.
Firmly established as one of the Arab world’s brightest stars, he has been commissioned to write or perform at the inauguration of numerous historic landmarks and events, including the 1996 opening of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina cultural centre, and last year’s New Suez Canal – a momentous event that further cemented Khairat’s place in the fabric of regional culture.
• Tickets for José Carreras on Tuesday, October 4 start at Dh450 (the Saturday, October 8 show is sold out), and for Omar Khairat on Thursday, October 6 from Dh375. For more details, visit www.dubaiopera.com
Updated: October 3, 2016 04:00 AM