What makes a unique opera house? Girlahead can think of two. Manaus’ Opera House, in Brazil’s Amazonia, was built in the mid-19th century by rubber barons, many of them French (their womenfolk used, according to hearsay, to send their dirty laundry back to Paris to be laundered, only to get it back a couple of years later, which showed they had plentiful supplies of crinolines and the like – and that fashions didn’t change radically!). Anyway THAT opera house had no air-conditioning so to combat the unbearable humidity they had ducts bringing fresh air up under the seats. Windows were kept open during performances. To lessen the sound of passing horses and carriages they paved all nearby streets in – rubber.
The other unique opera house opened 12th October 2011 in Muscat, replacing an earlier one at Al Bustan. This current opera house is beautiful – and functional. The exterior is local stone. Of its eight floors, three are subterranean, for storage. The entire facility, including stage and orchestra pit, and the four tiers of boxes near the stage, can be reconfigured in 20 minutes, by an iPad. This includes moving the 50-tonne Klais organ at the back of the stage (it has it own 20-metre rail tracks). The proscenium can be stretched from 14 metres, for theatre, to 22.7 metres, for concerts. Seating can be configured from 976, theatre mode, to 1,055 for concerts, with maximum capacity of 1,091. Master planner WATG led a team of international architects.
Enter a large three-floor reception hall, Carrara marble floor, a total of 12 peripheral ceiling-high pillars. One of the adjacent corridors has vitrines showing part of the collection of historical instruments, all working, that were in the collection of the last ruler, HM Sultan Qaboos.
The season runs from September until May. This month sees, 2-3 February, Costa Rica Virtuoso Guitars; 9-10 February, Malian virtuoso Fatoumata Diawara; 16-17 February, Accademia Teatro alla Scala, Le Nozze di Figaro, Solisti Veneti, a Venetian evening, conductor Giuliano Carella; and 24-25 February, Cairo Opera House, Zorba The Greek and El Leila el Kebira.
Sit waiting for performance to begin and look up, at the ornate carved ceiling. Allegorical motifs are riddles, with the answers written elsewhere up there. And when it is all over, explore the luxury mall that is part of the Opera House (see the image above of a bridge in the mall). Al Angham serves fresh food of the day, in a traditional setting – do keep space for the signature frankincense icecream. There’s also a Fauchon café, and if you have any money over Graff and 50 other top brands await. Yes, there are many firsts, here.