Abu Dhabi Stages Love Story as Gulf States Race for Art

Soprano Hibla Gerzmava and baritone Vasily Ladyuk in "Beloved Friend," part of the U.K.'s Royal Opera House debut in Abu Dhabi. Gulf states are racing to use their oil wealth to attract the world's best art institutions, artists and performers. Source: Brunswick via Bloomberg

Abu Dhabi started a partnership with London’s Royal Opera House with a show featuring Simon Russell Beale, the latest effort by the Gulf emirate to attract the world’s best-known arts institutions to the region.

“Beloved Friend,” the love story of Peter Tchaikovsky and his muse Nadezhda von Meck, was staged for 150 people in Abu Dhabi after the U.K. opera company teamed up with Abu Dhabi Music and Arts Foundation, founded by Hoda Kanoo in 1996.

The United Arab Emirates capital follows Dubai, which last month announced plans for a modern-art museum and opera house near Dubai Mall, the world’s biggest shopping center, and Burj Khalifa, the tallest tower. Oman, the biggest Arab oil exporter that isn’t a member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, opened the Royal Opera House Muscat in October.

“We’ve been looking to engage globally with like-minded institutions, and we liked Mrs. Kanoo’s twin aims of bringing artistic excellence and educational sessions to Abu Dhabi,” Tony Hall, chief executive officer of the Royal Opera House, said in an interview before the April 2 performance.

Some 20 opera singers, ballet dancers, musicians and actors performed in the Emirates Palace hotel for an audience seated on stage with them. The work by Oscar-winning playwright Ronald Harwood was inspired by 1,200 letters written over 12 years between the Russian composer, played by Beale, and von Meck, played by Harriet Walter.

Royal Ballet

The readings were interspersed with performances of Tchaikovsky’s work including “Eugene Onegin” and “Swan Lake” by dancers from the Royal Ballet.

“The recital was created to raise funds,” said June Chichester, who is on the board of trustees. A new performance to raise funds for the London opera house focuses on Shakespeare’s influence on opera composers, she said.

The show has been performed twice before, in 2009 for a fundraising event at London’s opera house and in 2011 at Buckingham Palace for Prince Charles.

Abu Dhabi’s plan to use its oil wealth and become an international cultural destination includes music, arts and educational events. It is constructing its own Louvre and Guggenheim museums.

Cezanne’s Players

Qatar, the world’s biggest liquefied natural gas exporter, is building its own art collections. Last year, it bought Paul Cezanne’s painting “The Card Players” for $250 million, the most paid for a work of art, Vanity Fair magazine reported. Sheikha Mayassa bint Hamad Al Thani, daughter of Qatar’s Emir and chairwoman of the Qatar Museums Authority, was named the art world’s most influential person by Art & Auction magazine in November.

Oman’s opera house, a complex of marble colonnades surrounded by gardens, opened last year with performances by Placido Domingo and Andrea Bocelli. Its productions from Europe, Asia and the Middle East are often sold out weeks in advance.

“We’re very proud of it,” said Mohammed al-Rumhy, the country’s oil minister, who attends regularly. “It’s too early to say what impact it will have on society. But it’s an icon in the region.”

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