The Royal Oman Symphony Orchestra came to the Royal Oman Opera House in what was a landmark appearance showing the great skills they have shown over many years. It was a first time appearance and in that sense an historic occasion. Not surprisingly it was a complete sell out from the plush front row stalls to the highly raked seats in the top gallery. It was also a very mixed audience with Omanis and expatriates alike celebrating the achievements of the Royal Oman Symphony Orchestra, (ROSO) which performed its first ever concert back in 1987 some 25 years ago, and has since become an important part of the nation’s identity.
To mark the occasion the orchestra accompanied two fine Italian opera singers of world fame, Fabio Sartori and Anna Caterina Antonacci. Making it an Italian-Omani evening. The conductor Massimo Zanetti received his musical education in Milan at the Conservatorio Guiseppe Verdi. He now has very much an international reputation, and has been guest conductor at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden and the Teatroalla Scala di Milano.
The really important thing about this gala occasion for the Royal Oman Symphony Orchestra was that it was a performance of equals. The professionalism of performers from Italy met and worked with the equally professional Royal Oman Symphony Orchestra. The first opera offering was from Rossini’s ever popular, the Barber of Seville. First performed in Rome just after the many horrors of the Napoleonic Wars it has delighted audiences of many sorts over nearly two centuries. You could almost hear the gasp of pleasure as one of the most well known pieces in the history of world music, was performed to the sheer delight of the audience.
The light and spirited Italian operatic mode was maintained with the aria called A Furtive Tear from Donizetti’s The Elixir of Love. It is a lyric in the pure spirit of the opera of the time. It describes how a love potion works successfully to win the heart of a lady. Everyone knows that all this is very far removed from reality but the beauty of the music and the singing causes a willing suspension of disbelief. The arias from Opera were no less enchanting with Verdi’s Song of the Veil, a story ultimately with very strong moral overtones. A Moorish King falls in love with a beautiful veiled woman. It turns out to be his own very neglected wife.
Bellini another famous Italian composer of the 19th Century whose opera Norma, a tragedy set in Roman occupied Britain, was represented. It premiered at La Scala, Milan and became famous for describing the plight of the young temple virgin, who prays that she has the strength to resist the man she loves. Plenty of improbable story lines, plenty of attempts to strain belief. But the ultimate point was that the audience enjoyed themselves very much and the Royal Oman Symphony Orchestra could rightly claim a superb performance when they first visited the Royal Opera House Muscat.
What are the longer term lessons to be learnt? Oman’s international worldwide image is changing. The ever growing Muscat Festival, the prowess at sea with Oman Sail and a growing reputation for caring for it’s architecture and historic buildings makes Oman already very different. The growing reputation world wide in good music, superbly performed in a superbly equipped Opera House will link in very much with another project now coming into being — the recreation of Muscat as a port for world class luxury cruise liners.
It is part of a new Muscat, which is being created without tearing the buildings and landmarks that have made Muscat famous. There used to be a much used phrase ‘The Power of Music’. The Power of Music can and will play a very important art in the emergence of a new Oman, even better known for it’s many achievements and the natural courtesy of it’s people.