I have been lucky enough to be involved with the opening of the Royal Opera House in Muscat, Oman.
Sultan Qaboos bin Said of Oman has commissioned an astonishing new opera house that will open on October 14. The craftsmanship that has been applied to this magnificent structure is beyond imagination to those of us working within normal budgetary constraints. The inlaid marble, crystal chandeliers and hand-carved wood is remarkable. The theater, which can be configured as either a classic proscenium theater or a concert hall with an imposing pipe organ, is glorious.
Oman sits at the southeastern corner of the Arabian peninsula. It represents a true crossroads -- a neighbor to many Arab countries, across the gulf from Iran, a short flight from India, and not much farther to East Africa.
It is an oil-rich, albeit small, nation.
I am hopeful that this amazing new facility in this nation of less than 3 million people, many of whom are foreign-born, will accomplish what, to date, has yet to be accomplished in the other larger, better known, GCC nations. Arts centers have been on the drawing board for years in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi but they are still unrealized.
The new Royal Opera House Muscat has the opportunity to change its nation and, in fact, the arts world.
If managed properly, the Royal Opera House Muscat has the potential to change the way the arts are viewed and practiced in this nation and this region of the world. Developing a solid arts education program is a central priority for the Opera House. And the presence of a major arts organization will certainly encourage the development and training of more artists and, especially, arts managers, a serious need in every Arab country.
But the Opera House can do much more by integrating the very best of Arab, Western and Eastern cultures and by truly fostering cultural exchange. While we in the United States episodically mount cross-cultural projects, the Royal Opera House Muscat can do it consistently and at the highest levels of quality.
While the opening performances in the Opera House primarily include major Western performers (including Plácido Domingo, Renée Fleming, Yo-Yo Ma, American Ballet Theatre, Mariinsky Ballet), future seasons have the potential to include performances that highlight Omani art, as well as collaborations between leading Arab, Indian, Asian, African and Western artists. The possibility to create new and dynamic work there is limitless.
Do not be surprised if a decade from now some of the most interesting arts projects in the world are emanating from a nation that many of us could not identify on the map.