Spain’s Placido Domingo kissed his Puerto Rican singing partner Ana Maria Martinez, Bryn Terfel belted out tunes from his Welsh homeland and Gilberto Gil played bossa nova from Brazil at this year’s Abu Dhabi Festival.
The increasingly international event, the biggest in its 10-year history, is billed the foremost celebration of art and culture in the United Arab Emirates. Gulf states are using oil wealth to attract the world’s best-known arts stars and institutions.
Bass-baritone Terfel ended the festival’s musical performances at the weekend, singing arias by Donizetti and others, accompanied by soprano Victoria Yastrebova from Russia’s Mariinsky Opera.
“This is an extraordinary festival,” Domingo said in his earlier concert in the Emirates Palace.
“The first time I sang in Abu Dhabi it was in the desert, you remember?,” he asked his friends among the audience, including culture minister Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak al-Nahyan and Hoda Al Khamis Kanoo, who founded the Abu Dhabi Music and Arts Foundation.
Domingo twirled Martinez around during their duets which were accompanied by the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Eugene Kohn.
The first half featured works by Verdi and Richard Wagner, to commemorate 2013 as the bicentenary of the births of the composers.
The mood then became lighter with Broadway tunes as “treats for people who aren’t coming from the operatic world,” Kohn said during a preconcert briefing. Domingo repeatedly kissed Martinez’s hand and the crowd clapped along to “Besame Mucho,” the first of four encores.
“This connection between the artist and audience, this is the highlight for me,” Kanoo said.
Brazil’s former culture minister Gil -- like Domingo, also in his 70s -- mixed African and European influences. He was joined on stage by Dina El Wedidi, an Egyptian who won a mentorship with him as part of the Rolex Arts Initiative.
Among the audience was Jean-Luc Guiziou of Total SA, Badr and Majid Jafar of Sharjah-based Crescent Petroleum, and officials from state-owned Abu Dhabi National Oil Co. and Mubadala Development Co.
The festival also hosted an exhibition of contemporary Arab art in partnership with the Paris-based Institut du Monde Arabe, educational talks and theater shows for children.
The festival coincided with the contemporary art exhibition Art Dubai, the Sharjah Biennial, and the du World Music Festival being held in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Ras al-Khaimah. Other projects include art-gallery plans and the Royal Opera House Muscat in Oman.
“I have attended this festival every year since it started,” Dominique Fabrer, human resources manager at BP Plc in Abu Dhabi, said during the interval of Domingo’s performance. The Frenchwoman was out on the terrace, where guests were enjoying the warm evening sipping wine or champagne and munching shawarmas. “I love the ambience, the people. Here people dress up, not like in Europe, where going to a concert has lost its formality.”
(Ayesha Daya is a freelance writer for Bloomberg Muse, the arts and culture section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are her own.)
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