x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Cultural calendar: the Cowell touch for opera's greatest hits

The classical-pop group Il Divo will be in Abu Dhabi this week.

The classical-pop group Il Divo will be appearing at the Emirates Palace on Friday.
The classical-pop group Il Divo will be appearing at the Emirates Palace on Friday.

More than a week into the Abu Dhabi Festival and true celebrity is about to descend on the capital. I'm not talking stars on the level of Kristof Penderecki or Wynton Marsalis, eminent though those artists no doubt are. I'm talking manufactured-by-Simon-Cowell degrees of fame, here. American Idol big. Special-guests-of-Barbra-Streisand big. Are they not men? No. They are Il Divo. The multinational quartet of opera and quasi-operatic singers is indeed coming to the Emirates Palace on Friday, bringing their repertoire of upscale pop ballads, their monochrome wardrobes and, presumably a row of stools from which to judiciously raise a clenched fist or shake a head more in sorrow than in anger.

Personally, I have no use for an opera boyband. As a 30ish male arts reviewer with a predilection for noisy experimental music it may be that I'm not part of the target demographic. There's only room for one eurotrash dreamboat in my heart and that's Antoine de Caunes. For now let's just shrug and say that 90 bajillion people can't be wrong and neither can Oprah Winfrey. Besides, insofar as the Abu Dhabi Festival has a mission to educate, Il Divo deserve a place on the bill. The fantasy writer Terry Pratchett tells a story about how a librarian once thanked him for all he had done for literature. "They come in looking for your stuff," she told him (or words to that effect), "and leave with a proper book." Il Divo might serve a similar gateway function: a warbly cover of Mariah Carey's Hero leads to Nessun Dorma and who knows where you might end up? Hoovering up Caruso 78s and trying to build a concert hall in Peru, no doubt. For those about to popera, Cultural Calendar salutes you.

A more scholarly approach to the classical canon is to be found at Dubai's Ductac this week. From Here to There is a concert exploring the formal links between Arabic music, Spanish song and Italian opera. Off the top of my head the route from A to B seems pretty clear but I can't figure out how to get to C. One looks forward to an enlightening evening. Showing the way are the conductor GianLuca Marciano, the singers Monica de Rosa McKay and Marc Heller, and the oudist Khalid Mohammed Ali. The performance includes the premiere of an Arabic composition written especially. It all sounds like a very interesting exercise.

Back in Abu Dhabi, there's plenty going on for those who can't stick opera, pop or not. The festival makes a rare foray into ballet with a show by the principal dancers from the American Ballet Theatre, the Bolshoi Theatre and the Mariinsky Theatre. The Puccini Festival Orchestra will be accompanying them on a caper through highlights from Tchaikovsky, Chopin, Auber and Khachaturian. This column has been known to cavil at how little dance goes on the UAE; here's a world-class event right in the capital.

Adach, meanwhile, has cleverly pre-empted Cultural Calendar's gripe that we never seem to see any Colombian folk acts in these parts. Cimarron combine harps, funny-sized guitars, percussion, big dresses, tap shoes and the kind of unsmiling charisma that made Christina Ricci seem like the right kind of trouble back in 1998. Come and fall in love with them on the Corniche on April 1. No fooling. Finally, a couple of art shows that merit a passing mention. The Salwa Zeidan gallery has a collection of paintings and sculptures by the French artist Baudoin Tasle d'Heliand, whose name this column plans to appropriate if ever it has to fight a duel. D'Heliand seems to go in for splashy, wiry-looking images of angelic beings, seen from above.

Meanwhile a show by the art photographer Leon Chew will have opened at the National Theatre yesterday. Chew goes in for cleverly lit images of detritus and industrial spaces, plus, to the delight of this 30ish male arts reviewer with a predilection for noisy experimental music, commissioned portraits of Mark E Smith and Throbbing Gristle. The Abu Dhabi show probably skews towards the former, but one can dream.