In just six short months, the Dubai Opera has made a seismic contribution to the emirate’s cultural scene, living up to its early promise by staging dozens of diverse musical and stage spectacles.
But inside certain cultured camps, there may be the somewhat legitimate claim that, despite the name, we have not seen a whole load of opera. The opening weekend’s fleeting Rossini and Bizet productions forgotten in the slipstream of blockbuster musicals — Les Misérables, Cats and West Side Story — which ran for a combined six weeks. Is that an indignant tutting noise I hear?
Relax — the half-year anniversary was marked on Thursday by the arrival of Welsh National Opera (WNO).
The respected company perform Madama Butterfly again on Friday and Saturday, and return next weekend for another dose of Puccini, with La Bohème running March 9-11. Fittingly, the final night of the run will mark the 100th performance held at Dubai Opera — in some 190-odd days.
Premièred in 1904 — and revised considerably by Puccini up to 1907 — Madama Butterfly is one of the most strikingly modern operas in the oft-performed repertoire. There are few action scenes, no set changes and few show-stopping arias — instead this tragedy unravels as a series of dramatic conversations. The themes of interracial marriage, romantic exploitation and the surprise love child are more human — sadly human — than most standard opera repertoire, and may explain Madama Butterfly’s enduring place in contemporary audience’s hearts, ranking the sixth most-performed opera today.
WNO revive late German director Joachim Herz’s celebrated production. Deliciously rendered, the action — or rather talking — unfolds in a sparsely romantic hilltop retreat in 1890s Nagasaki, where American naval officer Pinkerton installs his 15-year-old geisha wife — a steal at 100 yen, we’re told.
On Thursday, Korean soprano Karah Son was impressively emotive in the titular lead roll — flailing but never over the top, strong of voice but fragile in poise — a notorious grind of 90 nearly uninterrupted minutes in the opera’s second and third acts. This may be why Linda Richardson takes the role on Friday night, before Karah Son returns for the Saturday performance.
If appetites are being whetted by WNO’s visit — and they squarely should be — it’s pleasing to report there will be more opera on the horizon. Dubai Opera has announced a six-night stay from Naples’s Teatro di San Carlo to perform special commissions of three of Mozart’s best-loved operas — The Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni and Così Fan Tutte — over two weekends in September.
But that might not be all. Dubai Opera chief executive Jasper Hope recently hinted when speaking earlier this week with The National that more opera will be staged before those performances.
“You might get another surprise or two,” he added. “I wouldn’t rule out having more than seven operas in the first year. Something will be announced very soon.”