The capital of Oman has a new landmark that is gaining local as well as international attention.
Every visitor to the iconic Royal Opera House in Muscat is sure to be awe-struck from the moment one steps out of the covered car park into the 1,050-seat multipurpose auditorium.
Spread over 25,000 square metres in the heart of the mountainous city, the imposing marble, gypsum and wood-carved Royal Opera House is expected to feature acclaimed performers from the world of opera.
Its inaugural opera was Franco Zeffirelli's production of Turandot featuring the chorus and orchestra of the Fondazione Arena di Verona, Italy, featuring Spanish tenor Placido Domingo.
The wheelchair-bound legendary Italian opera director Zeffirelli was in Muscat to oversee his spectacularly crafted opera that opened with a 300-plus star cast. The artistes performed three shows on a three-tiered breathtaking set of a Chinese imperial palace courtyard with a waterway staircase.
Zeffirelli felt that the Royal Opera House would bridge Arab culture with the great tradition of European classics.
"I have been dreaming about it [merging of Arab and European classics] for years and now I see it becoming a reality with the opening of the Opera House in Muscat," said the opera director, who became popular with his versions of Romeo and Juliet and The Taming of the Shrew.
The octogenarian praised Oman for opening the a "magnificent" multipurpose opera house. "This is a masterpiece, a great achievement by Oman and I am grateful to you all," the jovial theatre genius said about the venue.
This opera house is the first in the world to be equipped with Radio Marconi's multimedia interactive display seatback system. The complex consists of a concert theatre, auditorium, formal landscaped gardens, cultural market with retail, luxury restaurants and an art centre for musical, theatrical and operatic productions.
Talking about the complex's multipurpose use, Geoffrey Wheel, Technical Director at the Royal Opera House, said: "It's a theatre, an opera house and, if need be, a cinema all rolled into one — there aren't many like this around." He added that the opera house can also screen 3D movies.
Talking about the state-of-the-art venue's capacity to handle massive productions like Turandot, he said that normally a large touring opera comes with an average of about 10 to 12 containers of equipment — Turandot had 22. "The entire prop and set is owned by Oman," he said.
"A new complete production facility, with stores for about 70-80 sea containers and also workshops for carpentry, metal, painting, costumes wigs and make-up is being built."
Wheel said that a proscenium and a column of three boxes — on either side — can be hydraulically shifted back (and lifted up) to convert the horseshoe shaped 850-seat opera into a 1,050-seat auditorium for concerts. The opera house's acoustics are such that it is nearly impossible to spot a microphone or a speaker. The sound that can be configured for either a classic proscenium theatre or a concert hall was crystal clear.
The opera house built with inlaid marble, crystal chandeliers and hand-carved wood also has an imposing pipe organ designed by Philip Klais of Bonn, Germany. "It is made entirely of wood and ornately hand-decorated with gold leaf and will most probably be used for a future organ concert or recital," Wheel said.
One can also enjoy a performance in any language because each seat has a touchscreen that lets the patron select subtitles in a variety of languages. "You can even rate a performance through the touchscreen panel," Wheel said.
The ratings are already very high for a series of shows lined up at the opera house. Domingo hoped this would entice more Omanis to follow classical music.