Dubai Opera: A Cultural Tour de Force

Written by Arpan Ghosh

Developed as a new hub for arts, entertainment and culture in the Middle East, the Dubai Opera is a stunning marriage of tradition and innovation, with a design that harkens back to Dubai's rich heritage even as it points the way to the emirate's future.

The idea of an opera house in a country, and indeed a region, that has no opera tradition to speak of might seem absurd at first blush, but Dubai has developed a knack for spinning the most outlandish ideas into awe-inspiring landmarks. As the crowning jewel of Downtown Dubai's pulsating Opera District, the Dubai Opera is no exception.

Cultural Boat Dubai

Historical Inspiration

When Atkins, the renowned architectural firm behind China Huarong Tower, The Crescent in Baku, and Dubai’s own glittering Burj Al Arab, was awarded the task of designing the Opera house, design director and lead architect Janus Rostock looked to the city’s seafaring past as inspiration for the design.

Pearl diving and the construction of traditional sailing vessels known as dhow can be traced back to approximately 7,000 years in Dubai’s history, and were two of its key industries and economic drivers prior to industrialization. The dhow also symbolizes Dubai’s diversity, as it was the vessel often used by traders entering and departing the country.

Thus, it was only natural that the dhow should serve as the model for the Dubai Opera, which will be Dubai's next big cultural gateway. The main structure of the opera house itself is located in the sweeping 'bow' of the ship, while the 'hull' & houses parking and waiting areas.

A Space For All

Dubai Opera

In a revolutionary departure from other opera houses and theatres around the world, the Dubai Opera is glass-fronted, affording all passers by a glimpse into its remarkable interior and treating theatregoers to a beautiful panorama of the Downtown skyline. The idea behind this is to create a space that’s welcoming to everyone, regardless of whether they are opera patrons. It adds a touch of warmth to a venue that would normally be designed for strict exclusivity.

A Symphony of Classicism and Modernity

Opera House Dubai

The interiors of the opera house highlight the dual nature of its design philosophy and its comparable with the world's finest Opera Boxes. The foyer is like a scene out of a science fiction novel, comprising full height cylindrical columns, tube-like elevators and gleaming metal surfaces, made all the more ethereal by gold and neon purple accent lights. But even that fades into the background once one sets sights on the three-storey chandelier that hangs down from the vaulted ceiling.

Appropriately named ‘Symphony’, this luminous masterpiece was designed by Lasvit, a Dubai-based interior design firm that specializes in glasswork and bespoke lighting projects. The chandelier, which weighs in at over 5,000 kilograms, is lit up by 3,000 internal LED lights shining through 27,000 hand-blown crystals. Clearly visible through the Dubai Opera’s glass façade, it acts almost as a beacon to attract the wayward bon vivant.

On entering the main auditorium, encased by the foyer’s looming walls, one really gets the sense of being in a traditional theatre, with an abundance of rich dark wood and crimson leather seats. Intricate metallic patterns on the walls add a futuristic element without compromising the classic elegance of the arena.

IL Primo Dubai

High-tech Sophistication

The world’s very first multi-format theatre, the Dubai Opera uses hydraulic lifts and a high-tech centralized control system to transform its main auditorium into three distinct venues that can seat as many as 2,000 guests, depending on the configuration. This is in addition to 31 premium boxes along the sides of the arena, cleverly designed to resemble small boats in keeping with the building’s nautical theme, which can accommodate a total of 184 VIP guests.

Approximately 900 seats can be hidden from view at the touch of a button, descending into an underground garage and resulting in a theatre hall with a total capacity of 1,901 or a concert venue with a capacity of 1,875. A further adjustment leads to the venue’s ‘flat floor’ mode, retracting the VIP boxes into the walls and creating an open arena fit for gala dinners, exhibitions, and even lavish weddings.

Keeping the sound design of the venue in tandem with its layout, the Dubai Opera adapts the acoustics for each mode using shells and reflectors that slide in and out of place as needed.

Heart of the City

Initially scheduled to be part of the historic Dubai Creek and its ongoing expansion, the Opera Dubai found a new  home in Downtown Dubai. One of Dubai’s central districts, and certainly among its finest, the Downtown area finds the Dubai Opera in good company.

Its neighbors include the expansive Dubai Mall, one of the world’s largest shopping malls and most popular retail destinations; Souk Al Bahar, a modern shopping centre and dining destination designed to resemble an old Arabian market; the Dubai Fountains, a magnificent mélange of light, music and water; and the giant that looms over them all, the 163-storey high Burj Khalifa.

Despite being one of the rare low-rise developments in a neighbourhood of skyscrapers, the Dubai Opera has made its presence felt, and has ensured that its bold voice will be heard for years to come.

Dubai Opera Theatre

All-Star Lineup

For its grand opening on August 31st, 2016, the Dubai Opera house kicked things off with a sold out show featuring legendary Spanish tenor Plácido Domingo. Since then the venue has hosted a number of high-profile performances, including Nutcracker on Ice, Mary Poppins, La Boheme, one of the final performances by José Carreras, and The Pearl Fishers, an operatic tribute to Dubai’s pearl diving heritage.

With roughly 200 shows scheduled in a year, there will likely be few dull moments, if any.This month’s performances are a celebration of Mozart’s mellifluous symphonies, starting with a performance of The Marriage of Figaro, followed by Così Fan Tutte and Don Giovanni.