Muscat Opera House Marks First Anniversary, Aims to Bridge Omani and Western Civilizations

Enacted by a royal decree, by Oman's ruler, His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said inaugurated the Royal Opera House in October last year, thereby establishing one of the Arab world's most remarkable cultural institutions in the capital of Muscat. While the Opera House occupies an extensive site of nearly eighty thousand square meters, overlooking the Arabian Sea, the institution's majestic architectural splendour draws its inspiration from traditional Omani architecture; combining a facade and interior made out of desert rose limestone with an interior gracefully decorated with meticulous Islamic inspired carving while its doors and panels are made by Burmese imported timber.

Also resembling a classic European grand opera house, spectators are greeted by a red carpet leading into the main auditorium where the ambiance strikes a harmonious balance between Omani wood carvings on all of the three balconies, and on theatre boxes, presenting a setting of distinction and grandeur.

At full capacity, the Royal Opera House can seat 1091 spectators while providing seatback electronic libretti with instant translation into Arabic, French and English. For opera performances, the first seven, five and three rows can be adjusted, providing a space for a larger stage.

Although the construction of the Opera House began in 2007, and was inaugurated four years later, Nasser Hamed Al-Taee, a U.S.-educated musicologist, currently serving as the advisor to the Board of Directors for Education and Outreach revealed that the project dates back to the 1970s as he linked the Sultan's support for the arts to the establishment of the Royal bands, Oman Center for Traditional Music (1983), the formation of the Royal Oman Symphony Orchestra (1985), and the 'Ud Hobbyist Association (2005). Al-Taee states,

"The Royal Opera House-Muscat is conceived to be the organization that will host all these musical institutions under one magnificent hall dedicated to the promotion of Omani, Arab, Western, and international music and dance."

However, only years prior to the construction of the Royal Opera, Qaboos inaugurated the country's Grand Mosque, bearing his name. While the Sultan Qaboos Mosque fits some 28,000 worshippers, its exterior and style resemble the Opera House. The two landmark institutions, each with its own distinct architectual style and charachter, celebrate Oman's traditional values with an openess to the many cultures of the world.

Ahead of its inaugural performance, featuring the legendary Spanish tenor, Placido Domingo in Giacomo Puccini's Turandot, Sultan Qaboos outlined the philosophy behind the Muscat Opera House when he stated,

"In all our international endeavors, we enact Oman's wider mission in playing a constructive role in the dialogue among civilizations, enriching cultural exchange and fostering ties of friendship and collaboration that will endure."

Diverse Programming

As an apparent testimony to the institution's commitment to diversity, the 2012-2013 season features performances ranging from internationally renowned conductors to celebrated opera singers; from a programme entitled "Arabesque" featuring Arab performers from abroad as well as Omani performers to appealing to Oman's sizable Indian minority with a "multimedia musical" centering on traditional Indian mythology; and a performance by a Mexican folk dance group and a musical assemble from Central Asia.

Meanwhile, the selection of Puccini's Turandot for the inaugural performance carried important symbolism, an unidentified Omani said. The opera, based on a theme from the"Arabian Nights," features a young and ambitious [Persian] prince who masters, through successive trials, to ultimately gain the kingdom [of China]. The Omani Sultan's reign, in which he is widely regarded for having ushered in a "new era" of prosperity, security and stability, is often described by his countrymen as the "Omani Renaissance."

Linking Geopolitics And The Arts In Pursuit of Peace

Oman, located across from Iran, next to Yemen and Saudi Arabia, along the Arabian Sea, has since the 16th century expanded trade relations with its immediate neighbors, Africa and China while maintaining a neutral and stabilizing international presence. Stemming from Oman's extensive maritime history, bringing its merchants and seafarers, as far as to China and to the United States; a leading Omani academic recently told me over tea, "Tolerance is in our blood."

On a strategic note, Muscat's stated foreign policy objective centers on maintaining friendly relations with its immediate neighbors, while avoiding interfering in the internal affairs of any state in the region.

In a recent address to the United Nations General Assembly, Oman's top diplomat, Yusuf bin Alawi said,"

We call on our brothers in Syria to renounce violence, stop fighting, and enter into a political process that will meet the aspirations and the hopes of the Syrian people and preserve the security, stability and unity of Syria. We call on the Security Council, which is responsible for the preservation of international peace and security, to reach consensus on a unified position towards the Syrian crisis, away from any political contradiction and without bias to any party, which would usher a serious national political dialogue between all political powers in Syria without exception."

On the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Alawi said,

"We believe that the role of the United Nations in relation to the Question of Palestine should change from managing the crisis to seriously searching for a just and lasting comprehensive political solution, that would take into account the interests of the Palestinians and the Israelis, leading to the establishment of the State of Palestine and the State of Israel living side by side."

Alawi also stated, in reference to the region, that,

"My country has from the outset supported the proposal to establish a nuclear weapon free zone and free of all weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East region... We hope the meeting will be able to officially declare the establishment of the Middle East as a nuclear weapon free zone and free from all other weapons of mass destruction, similar to other zones that where established in other parts of the world."

As part of an apparent effort to relate its foreign policy doctrine of non-inteference to the establishment of the Royal Opera House, Sultan Qaboos concluded his in inaugural address,

"We have no doubt that the Royal Opera House Muscat will contribute to the expansion of world heritage in its noble ideals of peace, harmony and understanding among all people, as they share meaningful and deeply felt cultural legacies through the performing arts."