Dubai Opera celebrated two years since its opening last month — and for CEO Jasper Hope, the milestone has reaffirmed the venue’s lasting impact.
With ‘400-something shows’ in their sophomore year, the downtown venue is no longer just about the glitz, glamour and novelty, but it’s an entertainment hub to be reckoned with.
“In Dubai, shiny new things are always exciting people. People love the new restaurant or the new destination or the new hotel, or whatever it is. In the first year, proud as we were about everything we did, you never quite know how much of it is down to being the new thing in town.
“But actually, most people came because they wanted to be there. They want to enjoy quality entertainment in Dubai. It’s something that people have been missing for a long time.”
The venue opened on August 31, 2016 and has since diversified its portfolio. Some of its most memorable events would look strange next to each other on paper.
But, with 2000-capacity seating and hydraulic technology that enables the venue to shapeshift from a typical stacked opera house to a flat-floored concert hall, it works.
‘PEOPLE TRUST US’
Hope reflected on his favourite events from year two.
“[English singer-songwriter] Rag‘n’Bone Man for rock and pop was just the most awesome night in years. The atmosphere he created, the vibe of the place, it just looked and sounded superb,” said Hope.
“The Emirates Literature Festival, we hadn’t done spoken word [before that]. We are a live performance venue and most people think about that in terms of music and in terms of dance. But spoken word is perfectly at home in a theatre,” he said.
The Polish National Opera’s Eugene Onegin — a ‘really big production’ with ‘several hundred people involved’ — meanwhile proved that there was an audience for opera in the UAE, with high attendance for both of its shows.
“Opera is not necessarily a kind of natural thing that people would imagine happens frequently and sells a lot of tickets in somewhere like Dubai. But we’re proving that there is an audience and that people are willing to trust us to try,” Hope said.
YEAR THREE: BIGGER, BETTER
Going forward, audiences can expect more variety in programming.
The Bollywood musical Taj Express, a first for Dubai Opera, will run from October 16-20, and features songs by seasoned composer A.R. Rahman. (“I think that… shows we can do literally any kind of entertainment in this space,” Hope said.)
Other productions include Julio Iglesias’ 50th anniversary tour (October 1), Ghost — The Musical (Oct 9 — 13), an Abdul Halim Hafez tribute night (November 3), Lebanese-Armenian composer Guy Manoukian (November 17), rock duo Feeder (November 27), and a sold-out stand-up comedy show featuring Gad El Maleh (December 11).
Plus, an unprecedented return to the venue by the BBC Proms.
“They’ve only ever left the [UK] I think twice before, once to Dubai. And to get them to do it for a third time and be the first place they ever return to was just too exciting an opportunity to pass up on,” said Hope.
IN ON THE ACTION
Front-of-house tours have been offered for a year now, but backstage tours have just been added, after much logistics and planning.
“We’re so busy with shows coming in and going out, and rehearsals for those shows, you can’t have untrained people just wandering around backstage. Even if they have a tour guide, it can be a little bit dangerous, and even apart from that, they can just be in the way,” explained Hope.
That’s why scheduling a proper route and deciding on the tour content took ‘quite a long time’.
“The one thing people always want to know is what it’s like on the other side of the stage. The kind of secret magic that happens when you can smell the grease paint and you can see the mechanics of everything, the fly tower and the dressing rooms and all of that kind of stuff.”
Still, Hope said, they planned to start off slow.
“Every month, we will do four or five tours on that day. I think they will be very, very popular. Certainly, in other countries, like the Sydney Opera House and in London, all sorts of places, when they do a backstage tour, which equally is not that frequent, it’s always the most popular thing.”
Tours will start from Dh175 for adults and Dh140 for children between 7 and 16.