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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 15 December 2018

Saudi Arabia's opera house opens up a host of possibilities

Ground has been broken on the new facility. Will it lead to the establishment of a new regional pathway for performers?

Plácido Domingo at the first night of Dubai Opera in 2016. Courtesy Dubai Opera
Plácido Domingo at the first night of Dubai Opera in 2016. Courtesy Dubai Opera

Saudi Arabia has demonstrated in words and deeds over recent months how transformation is sweeping through the country, spearheaded by a succession of reforms introduced by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Only last week, it was announced that women no longer need consent from a male relative to start their own business. This follows previous initiatives to open up society, including relaxing its cinema ban. These moves have been matched by a crackdown on corruption. On Friday, in a further representation of the mood music, the country staged its first-ever jazz festival. This is a moment of profound change, an occasion when there is a clear vision that is being mapped into reality. Taken in isolation, the news that Saudi Arabia has broken ground on the site of the country’s first opera house may seem like a small part of a broad narrative, certainly when put in the context of it being part of a $64 billion investment in the country’s entertainment sector over the next 10 years. But its opening will provide some interesting possibilities, not just for the kingdom but for the region too.

It is now almost seven years since the Royal Opera House was inaugurated in Muscat with a season of productions that included Puccini’s Turandot and Bizet’s Carmen. Two years ago, Dubai Opera’s grand opening was marked by a spectacular performance from Placido Domingo, one of the most well-known stars of today. Close to two years later, the venue continues to host an inspiring and diverse programme.

Once Saudi Arabia’s opera house opens its doors, touring companies will be able to map a proper regional tour of the Gulf, possibly taking in all three venues. We have seen in the past, in the sports of golf and tennis, in particular, how the establishment of “desert sweeps” have helped attract top performers to play for several weeks of competition across the region. It’s easy to see the same happening in our cultural calendar too. If it does, we will have plenty to look forward to.