Sunday 18 May 2014

Percussion at the Muscat Opera

On Thursday night I attended a loud, rhythmic performance at the Royal Opera House here in Muscat, Oman.

Only three years old, the opera house is one of the grandest modern buildings in the Omani capital. I'd been on a tour of the interior earlier in the day, and was greatly impressed by its decor.

Arabian art and architecture had been incorporated into the structure without compromising audience access and the technical requirements of performers - even the acoustic padding had been artfully concealed behind attractive wooden screens.

Came the evening, I joined the rest of the audience milling about the foyer before the performance. There was a lot of finery on display, thanks partly to the venue's dress code.

For men, it stipulated either a jacket, or the traditional dishdasha robe with the mussar headdress. There were plenty of both types of garb in the audience, though I had to borrow a jacket from the box office to fit in.

Although opera is staged here, the Royal Opera House is in reality an international arts centre, hosting a wide range of live performances. This night's, entitled Percussion Nights, was a prime example of this diversity.

Before the main event a South Korean group, Noreum Machi, performed in the foyer.

Then, within the lavish auditorium, we saw (and heard!) a drumming performance from the numerous uniformed members of the Military Drum Corps of the Royal Guard of Oman.

A subset of the Royal Guard, the Steel Band, then performed the Phantom of the Opera on steel drums while wearing Hawaiian shirts. No, really.

Egyptian percussionist Said el Artist (nice name) was next, then Turkish musician Murat Coskun performed with artists from Uzbekistan and Iran playing drums which resembled giant tambourines.

This was all rousing stuff, loud and energising.

Considering the distinct, rhythmic beats of Arabian music, it was never going to be a difficult task for percussionists to spark the enthusiasm of an Omani audience, and the performers had no trouble in getting the audience to clap in time whenever they needed our backing.

But the best came after the interval, when every performer - from individuals to the military musicians - added one by one to a joint performance which shook the building with its vibrations.

It was a joyous, loud, fun night at the opera. One that combined international glamour with its own distinctive beat.

Disclosure time... On this trip I travelled courtesy of Oman Tourism. Check out the program of the Royal Opera House Muscat by clicking here.

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