Oman


Royal Opera House Muscat downs curtains to annual cultural fest


Gustavo Dudamel and the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela.– Photos: Khalid Al Busaidi, ROHM

Muscat: As the curtain came down on the final performance of the 2013-2014 season at the Royal Opera House Muscat (ROHM), it marked the end of another successful year at the region's premiere cultural venue.

Reflecting on the past season, Christina Scheppelmann, Director General of the ROHM, said it was a strong season with a number of sell-out shows, strong ticket sales, and additional  programming that attracted new patrons and even some local talent. Though the season, which kicked off last September with a lively production of The Barber of Seville, was incredibly busy, it marked more growth.

"When the train leaves the station, it goes and doesn't stop again till the season is over. It was a huge amount of work but it was good," Scheppelmann told the Times of Oman.

The 2013-2014 season had many popular events, and as a result, ticket sales were higher than the previous season. A number of performances were sold out, including those featuring Iraqi singer Kadim Al Saher, Lebanese diva Magida Al Roumi, Canadian jazz sensation Diana Krall, Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro and the Chinese acrobatic show Chi of Shaolin.

"Overall, we sold more tickets than last year. Attendance varied from anywhere between 65 to 98 per cent," she said. "The audience response was great. There are some things that attract more than others and that's true in every place, but I would say the audience knows when something's good. It's not necessarily how many are in the house but the reaction you elicit from those who are in the house."

The ROHM's reputation is spreading, too, and in the past year, tickets were sold not just in Oman, but throughout the GCC, and by patrons who travel from as far away as Lebanon, Italy, Germany, the UK and a handful of other countries to attend performances. International ticket sales reached about 17 per cent, Scheppelmann said.

She said there was also a noticeable increase in the number of non-Arab expats attending the Arabesque concerts. Big Arab stars not only appealed to those familiar with their music, but generated a lot of curiosity among others, and more people showed an interest in hearing Islamic music, too.

"We knew Kadim Al Saher event would be very successful but I was also happy to see that some expats were there and they enjoyed it a lot. I was very happy to see that at the Sufi and Inshad concert, about 20 per cent were non-Arab expats," she added.

One of the aims of the ROHM is to introduce its patrons to a variety of musical genres, so some of the artists who performed there weren't necessarily well-known in Oman. Yet among the lesser-known artists, there were some wonderful surprises, Scheppelmann said.

Portuguese singer Mariza, who sings traditional fado music, which is full of emotion and soul, completely charmed the audience that filled about 70 per cent of seats, many of whom had never heard of fado before.

"I've never, ever seen an artist seduce an audience as she did. She completely controlled them and hypnotised them with her voice, her personality, her songs, her engaging way. It was a lesson in what a performer should be," Scheppelmann recalled.

For the first time, the ROHM also introduced family concerts, which were shorter concerts performed by visiting companies to introduce music to children. These attracted many new patrons, especially a number of Omani families.

In another first, the ROHM let people from the community participate in several productions as extras, or supers, taking on walk-on roles in two operas and one ballet. There was a lot of interest among people from a wide range of nationalities, all curious to be part of the action and see what happens backstage. Scheppelmann said it's a good way to reach out to more people and engage them in the work the ROHM does.

"There will be again an opportunity next year. I think it's a nice additional way of creating some interest. They're very enthusiastic. They tell their friends. They talk about it in social media. It gives their friends and colleagues a different perspective on the ROHM," she explained.

Overall, there were a lot of positive developments at the ROHM in the 2013-2014 and the variety, spacing, and number of shows seemed right, Scheppelmann concluded. She said the ROHM will be able to continue putting together strong seasons based on the success of the past year.

"What we've learned is that the formula applied to the season worked, the way the balance was. The 2013-2014 season confirmed we're on the right track," she said.

Being the Director General, Scheppelmann said she sees about 98 per cent of the performances, and while she enjoys all of these, she did have a few personal favourites in the past season, among them Mariza, Kadim Al Saher, the Vienna State Ballet and Ivorian singer Dobet Gnahore.

"I really enjoyed Kadim, and I don't say that as lip service. I loved Dobet Gnahore. She was fabulous! There's an interest in African music here and she really was fantastic. And I loved the evening with Leila Hejaiej and Lotfi Bouchnak. I just enjoyed them," she concluded.

To get in touch with the reporter: sarah@timesofoman.com

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