Royal Opera House Muscat Puts Oman on Cultural World Map

The Middle East, August-September 2013 | Go to article overview

Royal Opera House Muscat Puts Oman on Cultural World Map


The Royal Opera House Muscat (ROHM) is one of the most splendid architectural developments in the Sultanate of Oman and one that has hosted some of the most important cultural events in the entire Gulf region. It was officially opened on 12 October 2011, with a production of the opera Turandot, conducted by Spanish tenor Placido Domingo and has since become Oman's premier venue for musical arts and culture.

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The vision

One of the most remarkable things about the Royal Opera House Muscat is the vision that inspired it. It is the first opera house in the Gulf, where there is no established culture of opera or western classical music. Indeed, the nearest dedicated opera house is in Cairo, more than 2,750km away. Omani leader, Sultan Qaboos bin Said, is known to be passionate about classical music and wanted to develop this art form in the Sultanate. To help fulfill his dream, high flying professionals with international experience, were appointed to develop the project and bring it to fruition. The current director general, Christina Scheppelman, who is key to its success has worked in opera houses around the world, from La Fenice in Italy to the United States, her last position before joining ROHM having been artistic director at the Washington National Opera, in Washington DC.

The building

Architecturally, the building is designed in the classic Islamic style, embracing some of the traditional forms and details of grand buildings from around the region. Architects Wimberly Allison Tong and Goo (WATG) designed it with traditional Arabic design elements such as porches, terraces and sculptural tower forms. Built with local construction materials (Omani desert rose stone) and stucco wall coverings, the building is set within an 80,000sq metre plot of land and surrounded by landscaped gardens.

Inside the building, attention to detail is displayed in every element--from the intricate handcrafted decor to the bespoke crystal chandeliers and the delicate gold leaf inlaid in the hand-carved wooden decorations.

The technical prowess--a dual-purpose auditorium

In a unique feat of engineering, the state-of-the-art auditorium is capable of seamlessly being transformed from a proscenium theatre for opera to a symphonic concert hall--at the touch of a button.

The auditorium is a multi-form facility designed to accommodate a wide range of performance types in a technically and acoustically perfect setting. In 'opera mode', the auditorium seats 1,100 audience members. A traditional horseshoe shape, the room features a proscenium arch, fly-tower, and orchestra pit. The stage is generously proportioned, with side stages for scenery and sets associated with large-scale opera.

Using advanced automated stage engineering systems, the room easily transforms into 'concert mode'. In this format, the room becomes a classical shoebox concert hall with parallel side walls and a high, flat ceiling. This configuration creates a visually and acoustically ideal environment for all types of music.

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The room is as beautiful as it is technical, with patrons of the opera house unaware of the level and sophistication of the technology inside because it is all carefully hidden from view. Even the stage tracks--which carry the concert shell forward--are completely covered by special panels when not in use. One technological gadget that visitors enjoy is the subtitle seatback screens provided throughout the auditorium. These allow patrons to select from a variety of languages to read subtitle translations for the operatic production on stage. It is thought this is the first time that such a service has been implemented in Arabic, giving audiences an additional method of appreciating the spectacle of opera.

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The design of the auditorium plays a key part in helping the venue achieve its artistic goals.

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