Muscat is a beautiful city and the largest city in Oman. It sits at the base of the Hajjar Mountains and faces the sea of Oman. It has a rich culture and heritage that dates back two thousand years. But you’ll find more than traditional Omani cultural experiences there. A testament to European culture in the heart of the Middle East is Muscat’s Royal Opera House where I had a chance to take in a wonderful opera performance of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro.
In the Middle East, when they set out to do something, they want to be the best in the region if not the world. Muscat’s Royal Opera House is a sight to behold. It is hard not to be awed by the structure and design of the mega structure. Outside it is a massive marble edifice with a modernistic design.
The Royal Opera House Muscat is the leading arts and culture organization in the Sultanate of Oman. Established by Royal Decree, each performance at the Royal Opera House Muscat enriches lives through its diverse artistic, cultural, and educational programs. The newly completed building is a fusion of Omani tradition and modernity.
As we arrive it is a colorful scene. Ladies are dressed to the hilt and many of the men are in formal attire as well. These are the expats. The Omani are proudly dressed in local attire with the women in beautifully detailed Abaya and the men in traditional Jalabiya with the colorful Omani head coverings.
This monument to culture is adorned with stunning handmade ornaments and a sophisticated rich interior. In the receiving area it looks like a scene from Vienna with railing and vaulted ceilings. Inside the theatre it is breath taking. There is an expansive theater with plush seating. It is also a high tech viewing experience with the play translated into English and Arabic on a display,
The Vienna State Opera, indisputably one of the most prestigious institutions in the world of classical music, presented Mozart’s beloved The Marriage of Figaro. This same opera premiered in Vienna in 1786 and has been a longstanding and widely celebrated part of the Vienna State Opera’s repertoire as well as a perennial favorite at opera houses around the world. The performances on that night did not disappoint.
The Marriage of Figaro is a comedy about a Figaro who is the valet to his philandering Count Almaviva. Figaro is set to marry Susana who is the maid of the countess. The opera continues with a twisted tale of infidelity, lust, and conniving by a cast of meddling characters. The final act concludes with the happy ending and the marriage.
When the curtains opened, there was a collective gasp across the audience. You were no longer in Oman in 2014 but were taken away to Vienna, in 1790. The set was a work of art and beauty. The costumes were equally a work of art and the perfect complement to the evening.
Carlos Alvarez was the baritone cast in the role of Figaro. The Spaniard has had an international career performing at the Royer Opera House Covenant Garden, Paris, Amsterdam, San Francisco, Hamburg State Opera, the Bavarian State Opera, and Zurich State Opera. He has also performed in operas from Carmen to La Traviata. His performance as Figaro was spellbinding as he was able to combine performance of the comedy while singing so beautifully. He was clearly a star among stars.
Ileana Tonca was the soprano who performed as Susanna, the countess’s maid. Her voice was haunting as she sang amazing high notes and phrases. She was born in Romania and after winning many singing awards began touring in Germany, Austria, Italy, and France. She has been with the Vienna State Opera since 1999 and had performed in operas from Pinnochio to La Boemme.
Adam Placetka is a baritone in the role of Count Almviva. He is from Prague and has performed with the Royal Opera house Covent Garden London, La Scala Imlan and the Berlin Stasstsoper. He has been with the Vienna State Opera since 2011. His performance as Count Almaviva was spectacular and the audiences was riveted by every note.
This production by the world renowned Vienna State Opera with its great singers was complimented by its exceptional orchestra – the musicians are simultaneously members of the famous Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra – is nothing short of an operatic delight.
There must be a level of intimidation that the conductor has when directing the opera of a master. I would not envy the task to conduct Mozart in such with such an heralded cast in the setting of the Royal Opera House Muscat. But that is just what Alain Altinoglu did with a fierceness and intensity that created an experience for all in attendance. Like the other key players in the Vienna State Opera, he has a laudable resume conducting at Opera National de Paris, San Francisco Opera, Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires, Metropolitan Opera House in New York, and Zurich Opera House. The music was an integral cast member as important as the setting, performances on stage or the opera itself. It was a perfect complement to support the casts performances and a homage to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
The performance, evening, and experience was spectacular. There was a well-deserved and seemingly endless standing ovation with robust applause for the performance with the final curtain call. One could not seek to find a better performance in a finer setting anywhere in the world. It was, in short, a triumph.
The evening at the Royal Opera House in Muscat was one that will be cherished for many years to come. The have an extensive calendar of enriching and entertaining performances. If you get the opportunity do plan for an evening there. You are sure to have a delightful experience.
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