Abu Dhabi is trying hard to compete with Dubai for tourists and recognition. The new island construction (name?) will house a Guggenheim and a Louvre and this week we saw opera come to the capital.
Carmen is one of the more accessible stories, if a bit culturally insensitive, so there was much excitement about the show.
We were taking bets to see if the performance would start on time. With an international opera group, most thought that it would. I would have won enough to buy a small island if I had actually put money down. And even though the show started late, there were still people coming in to the auditorium 30 minutes into the performance. Anywhere else in the world, people are asked to wait outside so as not to disturb people who arrived on time. Not so here.
It immediately became apparent that the theatre was not designed for opera. In fact I can't imagine what it was designed for. The acoustics were more than lacking. And while you might think that the singers could adapt to the deficient surroundings, it seemed like they hadn't even rehearsed on the stage because it was certainly hard to hear all of what was going on. But of course you could follow the 'subtitles', I hear you say. The highlight of the evening was the translation / spelling / speed of the titles. 'Fans to make wind' ;)
What a disappointment. It felt more like a travelling circus than a professional opera outfit. While one friend pointed out that opera in Abu Dhabi was a miraculous feat and we should be grateful for any culture we can get, it begs the question: if the powers that be have so much money to spend, why could they not spend it on getting a top class performance?
Part of the disappointment was with the sets - sorry, set. Substitute faux wood for faux tiles and that counts as a whole new set…not quite the Vienna Staatsoper! But maybe all of these gripes would have paled away if it had not felt interminable. Act, interval, act, interval can get boring, particularly after 4 hours!
In spite of all this vitriol, I'm glad I went. No, really. I just wouldn't go again!