With its state-of-the-art sound management, ultra-smart LCDs and opulent interiors, there’s much to sing and dance over Oman’s plush new opera house, reports ABDULAZIZ KHATTAK
If you’ve ever had a hankering for a night at the opera but felt your Italian may not be good enough to get to grips with Figaro’s aria in Rossini’s Barber of Seville, perhaps you should head to Oman’s plush new opera house where, at the touch of a button on an LCD screen, you will be able to figure out what ‘Figaro quŕ, Figaro lŕ, Figaro su, Figaro giů’ really means.
That too, in any language of your choice!
Style and technology: The
interiors have been adorned
with crystal chandeliers,
hand-carved wooden fixtures,
inlaid marble and sophisticated
interactive seatback displays
These interactive active seatback screen displays from Radio Marconi are the first to be installed at any opera house in the world – and just one of many unique interior design features which put the Royal Opera House Muscat in a class of its own.
Opened to great fanfare late last year by Oman’s Ruler Sultan Qaboos bin Said a decade after its conception, the Royal Opera House Muscat is an imposing structure featuring a massive auditorium (18,580 sq m) that can seat 1,100, a small theatre and a mall called the Opera Galleria.
The impressive development is built over a vast area of 80,000 sq m in Shati Al Qurm in Muscat, half of which features beautifully landscaped gardens.
Another unique feature that sets it apart is that despite being an opera house, the main hall can convert from a theatre setting into a world-class concert and organ-recital hall.
The construction of the iconic and majestic Royal Opera House Muscat with stunning handmade ornaments, including the sophistication of its rich interior, is in many ways an embodiment of such complexity and multiplicity of references witnessed in Omani architecture, according to the client, the Royal Court Affairs of Oman.
A fusion of Omani tradition and modernity, having been conceived as a house for musical arts, the Royal Opera House Muscat was designed by WATG, whose portfolio includes prominent regional landmarks such as the King Abdullah Economic City in Saudi Arabia and Atlantis, The Palm hotel in Dubai, UAE.
The main contractor on the development was Carillion Alawi, who started work on the project in April 2007. The complex is spread over six levels with three basement floors. The main structure is reinforced concrete with block infill while the external finishes are Omani marble and render.
The opera house fuses classical and contemporary architecture, with interiors that have been richly adorned with crystal chandeliers, masterfully hand-carved wooden fixtures and inlaid marble. WATG states that the architectural character of the building was influenced by the grand style of modern Omani palaces, and reflects their outward design features and circulation patterns. The front entrance is an expansive palm-treed piazza backed by five tall, arched entryways into a hall that forms the central focus of a colonnade designed to create a grand feeling of entrance. The structure was finished in locally-sourced limestone and complementary stucco.
The venue incorporates a movable acoustic shell within the stage area and adjustable proscenium elements to create alternative acoustic configurations and stage formats to suit the various requirements. These elements provide a unique, adaptable volume control arrangement which gives unparalleled natural acoustic potential, says a spokesman for WATG.
The interior work has been done by Yahya Construction, which excels in the design and installation of exquisite marble tiling, wooden joinery and fine furniture manufacturing.
The company began work on the Royal Opera House in late 2009 with strict guidelines on standards and precision.
The scope of work included decorative teak wood ceilings and wall cladding for the main auditorium, balconies, reverb chambers, the Royal Box, VIP lounges, decorative carved wooden doors and marble flooring with intricate patterns.
Yahya Construction completed its task in 18 months moving from design to mock-ups to fabrication and finally installation on site. “There were a total of 230 working drawings describing each element in exacting detail,” says a spokesman for the company. “At peak stage, there were nearly 300 skilled craftsmen working at both the fabrication factory as well as the actual site. For the intricate carving, nearly one million man-hours, using 35 machines and 65 hand carvers, were needed to complete the work. Some 40 twenty-ft containers of Burmese teak and 4,300 sheets of plywood were used in the project.”
Regal splendour: The architectural
character of the building was
influenced by the grand style
of modern Omani palaces
The opera house is equipped with sophisticated technologies like Radio Marconi’s Mode23 multimedia interactive display seatback system, a feature no other opera house has yet installed.
In addition, its auditorium has the flexibility to expand and reduce its proscenium arch to fit production requirements.
“Mode23 turns any cultural and entertainment event into a live multimedia experience that captures the user’s attention, involvement and enthusiasm, thanks to the interactive touch-screen devices integrated on the seat back,” says Stefano De Lissandri, president and CEO of Radio Marconi. “Each user can choose among several video channels and select a simultaneous translation audio and text in his/her own language with voting and survey capabilities. Furthermore, each user can decide to visualise specific customised content or information about the event and the sponsors and also directly purchase through an integrated credit card reader.”
The opera house’s technical infrastructure has been further boosted with an Optocore optical fibre network that will enhance connectivity and route signals to the different performance spaces within the complex. At the same time, a Madi (multichannel audio digital interface) bridge will enable recording from the proposed capture/production suite whilst using Optocore converters to link with a Midas XL8 front-of-house (FOH) mixing console.
“The whole idea behind Optocore is to enable us to relay audio and record, across the stage areas,” says Bruno Silva, one of the house’s sound and broadcast managers. “For instance, if we need to put a band into the second theatre we can use the Optocore to connect the multi-channels to the FOH Midas desk using the local Optocore preamps and to also split the feeds simultaneously to the Capture suite and Lawo mc90 desk, deploying the Madi stream of the DD2FR-FX interface.”
One major feat, achieved in conjunction with the consultants Theatre Projects, was making the main stage and auditorium reconfigurable – adjusting the acoustic space to produce a beautiful sounding seamless concert space.
In addition to the main configurable auditorium, the Optocore network extends coverage to the smaller 80-seat studio theatre, the terrace on the roof of the building, the FOH foyer spaces and to the large outside marbled space (‘Maidan’).
Meanwhile, work is drawing to a close on The Opera Galleria (formerly known as The Opera Mall), which is designed to complement the opera house.
The Opera Galleria will house about 60 retail stores and an array of fine and family dining options over two levels. An emphasis has been placed on ensuring that it is not just a place to shop, but a venue to socialise and relax away from the bustle of the outside world.
The development will feature an array of carefully balanced fashion, gems, watches, perfumes and quality home-ware outlets. Antiques, art and handicrafts will be present as the Galleria is likely to become a much-visited tourist destination and therefore a traditional “Arabian style” colonnade will be home to such retailers.
The development, spread over 6,500 sq m and offering a built-up area of 21,000 sq m, has extensive car parking and will be linked ultimately by footbridge to the adjacent InterContinental hotel site. The car park is over two levels with a built-up area of 19,000 sq m with space for 540 cars. It has been designed by SSH International.
PEACE THROUGH CULTURE
Liberal use of quality marble, etched glass and bronze work will provide the backdrop for all the shops, bistros and cafes. With three voluminous atrium areas, the galleria will be flooded with natural light providing a unique ambience and welcome addition to the shopping experience Oman has to offer its residents and visitors alike.
During the launch of the Royal Opera House Muscat, Sultan Qaboos, himself a music enthusiast, said he hoped that the new house would help further boost the world’s cultural heritage by acting as a centre of cultural promotion while fostering the principles of peace, co-existence and understanding among all nations and peoples through art events.
And having already hosted some of the world’s best ballets (Swan Lake), operas (Carmen) singers (Placido Domingo, Andrea Bocelli and soprano Renee Fleming), orchestras (the London Philharmonic) and jazz virtuosos (Wynton Marsailis) since its launch, there’s no doubt that this goal is already being richly served.