Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 13 August 2020

‘I am looking for showmanship’: Guy Manoukian on judging Dubai Opera’s talent competition

The Lebanese-Armenian pianist and composer also reveals his long-awaited new album is completed

Pianist and composer Guy Manoukian will judge Dubai Opera's talent quest From Home to Stage. Dubai Opera
Pianist and composer Guy Manoukian will judge Dubai Opera's talent quest From Home to Stage. Dubai Opera

Guy Manoukian is well acquainted with Dubai Opera.

Not only was he the first Lebanese-Armenian solo artist to sell out the venue in 2018, but he remains one of the few artists invited back multiple times.

In an exclusive interview with The National, Manoukian reveals his next performance at Dubai Opera will take place in November, with ticketing details to be released later in the year.

With such experience, the pianist and composer is well placed to join an esteemed panel, including Emirati singer Fayez Al Saeed, actress Mayssa Maghrebi and television presenter Nouraldin Al Yousuf, to judge the final round of Dubai Opera’s talent quest From Home to Stage.

How does the competition work?

Launched in the midst of the pandemic in April, independent UAE artists of all ages and genres were asked to upload 90-second home videos on their Instagram pages using the competition's hashtag to showcase their talents.

Through a mixture of public votes and preliminary judging from Dubai Opera officials, entrants have been whittled down to the final 12. The remaining acts are set to perform live in front of the all-star judging panel on Wednesday, July 29. The winners will be chosen, once again, through a mix of public votes (for which you can register on Dubai Opera’s Instagram page until Tuesday, June 28) and the judging panel.

Two winners will receive different prizes that night: the first will return to the Dubai Opera main stage, at a later date, as an opening act for a major headliner. The second winner will get a chance to hold a one-hour performance at the venue’s intimate Dubai Opera Studio stage. The allocation of prizes will be decided by Dubai Opera.

“It is a great prize. I have performed in the Sydney Opera House and the Hollywood Palladium in Los Angeles, and I can honestly say Dubai Opera is a stunning venue,” Manoukian says.

“More than the acoustics and the design, what makes it a great place to play is the staff there. They make the artist very comfortable and it is always a joy to play there.”

That said, despite the warm vibes backstage, performing concerts in front of up to 2,000 people at Dubai Opera is no easy feat. As such, Manoukian says he is looking for more than just a great voice.

“It’s not just about musicality. I am looking for showmanship because at the end of the day, it is all about entertainment,” he says.

“Some people can be amazing piano players but it won’t work on stage if they look like they are working on a typewriter. What we are looking for in the competition is that special ability to entertain and not many people have that.”

The travelling showman

Showmanship is a skill Manoukian has been honing for the best part of his two-decade career.

A child prodigy, he took up the piano at the age of 4, and three years later found himself performing to Lebanese dignitaries at the presidential palace.

While mentored by leading figures in the region's music industry, Manoukian managed to blend that technical prowess with a flamboyant stage style. Backed by an eclectic band capable of playing and fusing a variety of styles ranging from Lebanese and Armenian traditional folk to western classical music and modern pop, Manoukian's shows are as evocative as they are visceral.

Such a freewheeling approach resulted in both of his albums, 2009’s Assouman and 2014’s Nomad, becoming crossover hits. Not only did they top regional charts upon release, but they granted Manoukian that rare ability to undertake large world tours where audiences are made up of more than just the host country’s Arab diaspora.

As a result, much of Manoukian's life is spent in constant motion. It's an aspect, he admits, that was hit hard when the pandemic struck.

“I have had up to 90 shows cancelled already,” Manoukian says. “And that’s on top of the shows I already played this year. I started the year like a rocket doing shows everywhere from Mexico to Singapore,” he says.

“Right before the virus started I did eight countries in 14 days and I remember how sad I was at not being able to spend time with my children. But now, with some rest and quality time with the family, I miss the road and I can’t wait to get back.”

A new album is coming

This time around, Manoukian should be back on stage with some new tunes. He confirms his long-awaited third album, his first since 2014, is complete and discussions are being held with record labels to plan its release.

Ironically, if it wasn’t for the live music industry shutdown caused by the pandemic, fans would have been waiting much longer for the new music.

“I have made as much music in the last few months as I have in the last 10 years,” he says. “I am very excited about the new album and as far as I am concerned this is the best and some of the most beautiful music I have made in my life. I can’t wait until everyone hears it.”

For more information on From Home to Stage, go to www.dubaiopera.com

Updated: July 28, 2020 09:03 AM

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