Imagine you are assigned to manage the United Arab Emirates’ first opera house. Neither the country nor the region have any traditional classical music history. What do you do? Simply export European classical music to the Middle East? Jasper Hope, Chief Executive of Dubai Opera, has a different approach.
Dubai Opera is the first dedicated performing arts centre in the United Arab Emirates, which has the capacity and resources to host major performing arts productions. Functionality was at the forefront during planning stages and has allowed for great flexibility: the auditorium can be transformed into three different configurations. The final design by Atkins (the firm behind the Burj Al Arab and Dubai Metro) created a 2000-seat auditorium, housed rather poetically within a dhow-shaped structure referencing the maritime heritage of Dubai. Jasper Hope, coming from the Royal Albert Hall, London has been its Chief Executive since January 2015.
Establishing the creative heart of the city
“When we opened, I talked to my team exclusively about three things: variety, quality, and community,” Hope reveals. “Staying true to those three principles when working on our programme and experience, that’s what’s most important”.
Variety: reflecting the cosmopolitan nature of Dubai
Hope admits that it was a guessing game, at least at the start, as to how popular certain genres were going to be. From the very beginning, their programme was deliberately diverse with short runs, often consisting of only one or two performances. Hope tells us that contemporary dance was a surprise hit, perhaps because of the non-linguistic nature of the art form. “There are many different groups of people here who want different things,” Hope explains. “The preferences range from high-level opera to family shows with everything in-between. It was worth going the whole stretch to make it truly as broad as possible, reflecting the cosmopolitan nature of this city.”
Looking ahead the variety of programming is impressive – everything from Swan Lake and Othello to a Bollywood Musical and Comedy Night. Dubai Opera presents a familiar calendar with perennial favourites such as the Jingle Bells Christmas show, opera, ballet, and contemporary dance falling in the same months each year. “It is important to have a regularity to some of our programme,” Hope comments, “particularly in Dubai where the season is short.”
Quality: a Eurocentric perspective?
When discussing the level of classical music appreciation in Dubai and questioning if European classical music will always be a priority, Hope declares, “If you are going to call yourself an opera house, you have to have European classical music at your core. There is four hundred years’ worth of fantastic music with new material written every day – which is where it gets interesting. Luckily there are also exciting Emirati composers, some strictly classical, others a fusion of different styles.”
His face lights up when he tells us that they have started an Emirati band, which, in the long run, will go on tour and share a piece of Dubai’s musical culture with the world. “You can start to develop a sound for the region that has its roots here but uses classical music history to develop into something else. If Emiratis can go to Mars, they can write a symphony. All these things are eminently possible”.
Community: fostering local and international talent
‘Music in the Studio’, for example, is a parallel programme to the Opera’s main auditorium, giving an opportunity to lesser-known ensembles or artists to perform in a more intimate setting. In addition, each musician is required to give a masterclass or a workshop with a school or local community group. “I consider it a responsibility,” Hope explains. “If you run the Dubai Opera and promote high-profile performances, sell tickets and make a business out of it, you definitely also have to promote lesser-known artists. To act for the community, to have roots in it, you have to support young people. If we find local or international talent, we try everything we can to foster it”. The Expo 2020 in Dubai may be an excellent opportunity to do so.
About Dubai Opera and Julius Baer
“I think that Julius Baer is leading the way,” Hope tells us, discussing the partnership between the Bank and Dubai Opera. “The organisation supports more than one art form and sees value in identifying itself with certain institutions such as us and Art Dubai because of a shared audience. What makes partnerships like this successful is genuinely working together. We appreciate the value of being affiliated with a company that has a history of supporting artistic endeavours worldwide, which is crucial when it comes to securing the best performers and maintaining a quality on par with other global cities.”
The Human Touch
This article is a part of the ’Human Touch’ series in which we portray organisations, businesses, characters, startups, or initiatives that invest in the only thing that will never be replaceable – the human touch.