x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Abu Dhabi Festival 'getting right balance', says UK opera chief

The Abu Dhabi Festival offers the third staging of Tchaikovsky's Beloved Friend.

With the UK being chosen as a country of honour by the forthcoming Abu Dhabi Festival comes a rare performance by London's Royal Opera House (ROH) of Beloved Friend to the UAE for the Abu Dhabi Festival.

It will mark only the third time the story of the Russian composer Tchaikovsky and his financier and muse the Russian businesswoman Nadezdha von Meck will have been staged, following up on a performance at Buckingham Palace at the request of the Prince of Wales and another at the ROH.

Tony Hall, the chief executive of the ROH who was appointed to the British House of Lords last year, was in Abu Dhabi for the announcement of the festival line-up this week and also plans to attend some of the 168 shows on offer when the event is held from March 11 to April 6.

"The choice of performances offers many wonderful events, including Beloved Friend," he said. "It also includes reflections on Emirati culture - so getting that right balance, building new audiences, offering many performances for free and proceeds going to charity, I think is great. Education is clearly important and we look forward to exploring in what ways the ROH team can contribute."

The United Kingdom has been chosen as the Country of Honour by the ADF this year. The founder and artistic director of the festival, Hoda Al Khamis Kanoo, said pivotal partnerships with "elite organisations" including the ROH, Manchester International Festival and Edinburgh International Festival, among others, will be celebrated.

Having visited the UAE a few times before, Hall praised Kanoo for contributions in developing the local arts and culture scene. "Mrs Kanoo is very committed and the direction is spot on," he said. "We hope this is just the beginning of our relationship to work together to produce great art," he said. "We are usually very careful about the partnerships we agree to, because it means plenty of time and energy. But this seems like it will be very interesting."

Hall took up his position at ROH in 2001, after leaving a position as the chief executive of BBC News, and has been credited with bringing financial stability to the arts institution.

During his tenure he also set up ROH2, a department tasked with supporting new artists and seeking out new audiences. He also masterminded the Royal Opera House's acquisition of the DVD production and distribution company Opus Arte, and has overseen a new scheme allowing the elderly to purchase low-cost tickets.

"The results have been fantastic," said Hall. "It is our responsibility to get all from the community involved."

Made a member of the House of Lords in 2010, Hall is a busy man. He is currently the deputy chairman of Channel 4 Television and was asked by the government to set up and chair a board to direct the Cultural Olympia. He is also on the board of the London Organising Committee for the Olympic Games.

"I am just immensely lucky to be doing things I enjoy. I love arts and theatre and working with audiences. To find yourself as chair of the cultural festival alongside the Olympics is amazing and London is perfect."

June Chichester, an ROH trustee also on hand at the ADF launch, was confident that the universal story of Beloved Friend should captivate audiences in the UAE just as it did in the UK.

"It is an unusual love story about Tchaikovsky and the lady that became his patron and muse. They corresponded for 12 years but never met in person, yet they became soul mates," she said. "He was quite a lonely man so they built this spiritual and intellectual relationship. He was a man who expressed himself best through music."



The Royal Opera House performance of Beloved Friend is on April 2 at the Emirates Palace hotel