One of the many attractions here in Oman is the Royal Opera House. It’s one of my favorite places here in Muscat because its building’s design makes me think of Babylonian architecture, and it’s one of the very few opera houses in the Arabian Peninsula . In fact, I think the only other Arab country that has an Opera house is in Egypt. I read somewhere that they were going for 16th century Italian Style Opera when they built the place, and I guess that part can be seen in the way the stage was built which can seat about 1400 people and has state of the art equipment including collapsible floors to accommodate a bigger stage if needed.
It had been opened only a few months after we arrived in 2011 and it took us about a year to be able to watch a show. Aside from Operas and Concertos, the ROHM also holds presentations from different countries and cultural performances. My first experience of the place was when we were invited to see Japanese Wadaiko drummers which was by the way an awesome performance.
As a treat to our Moms who are visiting us here in Muscat, JG and I thought of taking them to a night out to see an Opera. Personally it was one of the things that is on my bucket list so I was really excited to be able to check that off. There were some apprehensions because I was afraid I would find it boring especially since Operas are mostly or entirely in Italian I would find myself lost in translation. Also I always thought that such events were too posh for me, since the opera has always been one of those things you hobnob with those in higher social status, rubbing elbows with the fancy and all that.
Funny thing about that night because it seemed the kind where nothing went our way. We originally planned to have dine-out before going in the theatre, but decided to eat-in afraid of looking over-dressed in our favorite casual food joints. That made us very late in leaving the house, which was aggravated by some road blocks, causing some heavy traffic, which was frustrating since traffic is not a common thing here and the one time you are running late that is when you find yourself stuck in a gridlock. Feeling lucky manage to get on time, running to catch the opening curtain, at the entrance I was however stopped because apparently my outfit was too short and there was a dress code that mandated clothes for women that at least reached the knees and mine was like two measly inches above them. The good thing about running late was that perhaps he was anxious to get everyone in on time, I was able to convince the guy to let me in if I promised to wrap my scarf around my dress. Let’s just say it did not do well for my get-up but rules are rules, and admittedly I should have known better knowing this is still of course a Muslim country plus the fact that it was plainly written at the back of the ticket (that I neglected to read) that there was in fact strict rules on the dress code.
(The photos above I took during a tour of the Opera House two years ago.)
Surprisingly though, I thoroughly enjoyed watching the whole thing. We saw Puccini’s Manon Lescaut, which is basically
about a woman who fell in love with a man who would do anything and literally go to the ends of the earth with her. Sadly Manon’s desire to live a more financially comfortable life has prevented them from an otherwise humble yet happy life and consequently leads them into a tragic ending. I could say that an Opera is quite different from a Broadway musical because all the acting, dancing, and stage props is only placed second to the music and the singing prowess of the actors on stage. It’s hard to explain but you can’t help but just be amazed at the range and control they have over the high notes demanded of the music (Autotunes has got nothing on these guys). I also found myself reacting to moments in the story like when the lovers confess of their love and the orchestra’s music would swell to create this really powerful scene. It was also interesting to think that this theatrical musical has been performed over since 1884, and just like a great old painting or a historical artifact it’s a connection that we have of the past, in a world where almost everything has gone digital, a beautiful artwork and form of entertainment that is still enjoyed and celebrated hundred years later.
And in case you are wondering, above the stage is a big electronic sign that translates the lyrics of the songs into English and Arabic so being lost in translation was not a problem after all.