Royal Opera House, Muscat: In the heat of the night

I hadn't thought to pack a suit jacket for a destination where the daily maximum routinely passes 40 degrees in summer. In these temperatures, shorts and T-shirts were what I had in mind.

However, it's a jacket I must find, if I'm to enter the Royal Opera House Muscat (rohmuscat.org.om) for tonight's performance. 

Opened in 2011, this cultural institution was a personal project of Oman's ruler, Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said. It's an impressive building both inside and out; a reflection of Islamic architecture and art in modern form. It's worth buying a ticket just to see the interior, containing marble from Italy and Iran, timber from Myanmar, and chandeliers made with crystal from Austria. The patterned ceiling is, I'm told, derived from decoration within the 17th century Jabreen Castle in the Omani town of Bahla.

The repertoire is equally varied, the venue hosting performers from around the world. This variety is perhaps a reflection of the diverse influences on the Sultan, an absolute monarch who was educated in Oman, India and Britain; and on the country he rules, with its key geographical position between Africa and Asia.

Its dress code also spans East and West, at least for men. If wearing Western garb, you need a jacket. For those in traditional Omani garb, the requirement is for a dishdasha, the traditional long-sleeved robe of the region, matched with a massar, colourful embroidered cloth which is tied neatly into a turban.

None of which I possess. The staff of the Royal Opera House are, luckily, prepared for this problem, and gesture me towards a rack of random jackets which may be borrowed for free by sartorially challenged guests. 

They're all too small, but it occurs to me to drape the largest of them over my arm. I proceed to the lobby just in time to encounter a bunch of Koreans noisily banging on drums.

This South Korean group, Noreum Machi, is one of the acts in Percussion Nights, tonight's concert featuring percussion instruments. Its warm-up among the audience, which includes impressively-dressed Omani women in full finery, is lively and noisy and sets the mood for what's to come.

Entering the auditorium, my temporary jacket and I slot into a couple of seats in the stalls, and together we're treated to some beat-heavy music from the steel band and drum corps of the Royal Guard of Oman Band.

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Though its music has the expected military discipline, there's a playful touch to the selections and clothing of band members. At one point they perform the Phantom of the Opera theme on steel drums while clad in Hawaiian shirts.

The musical soldiers are followed by Egyptian drum maestro Said El Artist, playing the traditional tabla; performers from Turkey, Uzbekistan and Iran on giant drums resembling tambourines; and the Koreans with their rapid-fire beats.

It's a wonderful, energising experience, topped by the second act in which the performers join together in a noisy, triumphant ensemble.

The reaction of the Omani audience is infectious, as they clap in time to the beats whenever encouraged. Arabian music has such an emphasis on rhythm that it was never going to be hard to persuade a local audience to enjoy this music. 

I'm clapping too, carried away by music and energy that transcends national taste. I'm filled with the beat. I think my borrowed  jacket is feeling it too.

Tim Richards travelled courtesy of Oman Tourism

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