Four years since it was first announced by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minster of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, that the emirate would get its own opera house, and three years since Emaar launched the Opera District in Downtown, Dubai Opera is now just days away from welcoming its first guests.
On Wednesday August 31, the city’s newest architectural icon will host its hugely anticipated inaugural performance, when it plays host to legendary Spanish tenor Plácido Domingo. The opera superstar will be swiftly followed by The Pearl Fishers on Thursday September 1 and Saturday 3 and The Barber of Seville on Friday September 2 and Sunday 4, and a promised 72 more performances over the first four months alone. “We don’t know what the demand will be, but our expectation is that there will probably be between 200 and 250 performances a year,” says Jasper Hope, Dubai Opera’s chief executive.
“Our belief is that for a long time, many international productions and artists haven’t come to Dubai because they haven’t had a venue in which to perform. They haven’t wanted to perform in open-air venues, or play in one of the other spaces, because the artists haven’t felt it was right for their particular show,” he explains.
Unsurprisingly, Hope – and no doubt many among his peers and Dubai’s own population – wants to make the venue “into the region’s definitive performing arts venue”. “It’s the first building of its kind here – a theatre that uses the latest technology to host the widest possible variety of shows. Everything that you can imagine that could be staged here, we’ll be able to do, in this purpose-built, advanced space.”
And whatever you’re into, Dubai Opera plans to host a performance you’ll want to see – so don’t let your classical prejudices deceive you. “The programme is so varied, and you haven’t heard the half of it,” he enthuses. “There’s stuff we haven’t announced – like plays, comedy, rock, pop, and jazz. If you like opera, we’re here for you. But equally, we want people to try new things. If you haven’t had the chance to see an opera, give it a go.”
As the early line-up reveals, shows at the 2,000-capacity venue have a limited run, lasting one or two days, with only a couple of exceptions. “The first four months is a good example. We have a run of Les Misérables and Slava’s Snow Show for a couple of weeks. Short runs, like the operas and the ballet, are just a couple of nights. Everything else is one night only. I expect that cycle to be replicated month on month, year on year,” Hope explains.
It’s also a cycle that he expects to see consistently full houses for. “I’ve lived in Dubai for 19 months now, and I’ve experienced excitement from everybody I’ve met. Excitement about the shows we’ve got, the shows we might have in the future, and the opportunity to have a great night out seeing a concert or performance in Dubai Opera.” And while some may have wondered whether Dubai has the population and visitor numbers to sustain the venue’s jam-packed calendar, Hope has no doubts. “I know there are enough visitors and residents right now, and demand will only get stronger,” he says, “Particularly as we look towards Expo 2020.”
Key to Dubai Opera’s success (in addition to a diverse line-up, already shaping up to fit the bill) will be its accessibility from a ticket price perspective – of which the theatre boss is well aware. “It’s designed to be affordable, with something for everyone across the year. We don’t plan on making this an elitist, unaffordable place. This has to appeal to everyone who is part of Dubai.” As such, he explains, most shows range from Dhs200 or Dhs250, up to around Dhs900.
“I’d like people to realise we have a lot to offer compared with the other great cities of the world. We have an amazing airport, amazing hotels – lots of amazing things – but one thing we don’t have is an amazing performance venue. People don’t think of Dubai as the place to see a great show, and I want that to change internationally.”
With a setting to rival the world’s most famous, a stellar line-up so far and no doubt many more on the horizon, it seems safe to say Hope will get his wish.