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Dubai Opera review: Pearl Fishers

Bizet’s opera was the first full opera performed at the city’s new opera house

Image Credit: Clint Egbert/Gulf News
Dubai Opera during its opening event on August 31, 2016.

The things that I learned from my first operatic experience with Georges Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers at the magnificent Dubai Opera on Thursday evening. It was the first full production put on by the new opera house, which opened on Wednesday with a medley of arias and songs by Spanish tenor Placido Domingo. Another performance of The Pearl Fishers takes place on September 3; September 2 sees Rossini’s The Barber of Seville. Both operas are performed by Fondazione Teatro Lirico “Giuseppe Verdi” from Trieste, Italy.

*Shah Rukh Khan is not always right

This Bollywood superstar ruined opera for me. In his iconic romance Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge, he chose to impress a group of beautiful girls in Switzerland by upstaging an opera singer. The scene showed a giant opera singer in a billowing gown singing earnestly, but our exuberant hero found it boring and boasted that he could do better than her. The next few scenes were all about him and a dozen flashy dancers taking over the stage. It was cute then. But now that I have seen The Pearl Fishers, I am convinced that Khan was hasty in writing off operas as boring.

Be patient and you will enjoy this classical cultural experience. The Pearl Fishers, set in Sri Lanka, is a love triangle. Two men, who are best friends who swore never to let a woman come in between them, break their promise.

*Language isn’t a barrier in opera

It’s always good to familarise yourself with the story before you attend your first opera. Having said that, the surtitling in English and Arabic was spot-on. Whether it was soaking in the rage and jealousy of Zurga (Filippo Polinelli) at not having Leila (Roberta Canzian) in his life or Leila’s uncontrollable passion for Nadir (Jose Luis Sola), their stellar voices carried weight and depth to cut across language barriers. Who hasn’t lost in love and who hasn’t done stuff that they are not proud of? The Pearl Fishers touched upon universal emotions and that was its biggest strength.

*Tales of love, betrayal and redemption never go out of style

My companion, who was also watching an opera for the first time, remarked that this opera was like a grand Bollywood film. Now, we are not comparing or trivialising any art form here. Hear me out.

Director Sanjay Leela Bhansali, who is known for his spectacular love stories on the big screen, would have found The Pearl Fishers right up his alley. He’s soft on unrequited love, forbidden lovers and dramatic reactions. Watching The Pearl Fishers is like watching a spectacular Bollywood musical. For two hours of your life, you are transported to a world where the matters of the heart override reason and logic. Just like his films, even the sets are larger-than-life and arresting.

The scenes set against the ancient Buddhist temple added to the atmosphere and was a perfect playground for two lovers to declare their love for each other.

*Wear sensible footwear and get your transportation sorted

While dressing up in your finest pearls is a given for opera, I would recommend you to wear comfortable shoes, especially if you are travelling in a taxi. The line at the taxi stand was long and taxis were sparse. So figure out your transportation before you head for the venue.

*Don’t be afraid to try something new

If you think opera is snooty, scratch that thought away. It isn’t. Despite being an opera novice, I loved this enriching cultural exchange. It was impossible not to be carried away by a tumultuous, torrid love story.