There wasn’t an empty seat in the house. No, I’m not talking about the latest CGI-happy movie at the cinema, celebrity chef restaurant or famous DJ spinning at a beach event. I’m talking about the Dubai Opera House. Despite a passive-aggressive shove from a lady’s Prada bag in the elevator to get to our seats, seeing the full house made me swell with pride.
Living in Dubai for over a decade means I’ve rolled my eyes at a fair share of people talking about how the Gulf region lacks “real” culture, soul, performance art and creativity. I blame that on a new global culture of staring at our phones and not observing the world around us. We’re actually swimming in creativity here. Saudi Arabia has some fantastic art exhibits (Manal al-Dowayan’s powerful work is showcased around the world, too), Dubai’s Karama has colorful street art guaranteed to create Instagram envy, Qatar’s museums have beautifully curated shows, and I’ve shimmied my shoulders at many a Cuban concert hosted by The Fridge in Dubai’s industrial Al-Quoz.
The Dubai Opera House was a stylish entrant to this vibrant scene: a dhow-shaped tribute to Dubai’s maritime history with some fancy architecture that allows it to transform from a single banquet room to a staggered show hall depending on the event. And here was a sold out show where people dressed in their finest, like they would at a wedding, to honor one of the greatest tenors of our time: Jose Carreras.
I admit, when I received the invitation from Cartier hosting an evening at the farewell tour of the great Jose Carreras, my first thought was extremely superficial. What do I wear? The night of the event, I realized most others had the same Louboutin-clad conundrum - it was a parade of haute couture that put Paris Fashion Week to shame. Was the actual problem us - the audience? Are we more into selfies and champagne receptions than stellar performances?
Then, something magical happened: the show started. Phones shut and everyone quietly faced forward. Jose Carreras walked to applause and stood next to a single piano and a string quartet. There were no more Instagram stories, small talk, or quick checks on Wikipedia on opera facts to sound smart in conversation (delete history…). There weren’t even any microphones to carry the music. And yet, as his powerful voice rose, the noise around us faded.
A survivor of leukemia, 69-year-old Jose Carreras has performed in the world’s greatest opera houses - now including ours. Reports about him detail that his voice no longer carries the strength it once had, but to his audience that night, his voice was transformative. He took us on a journey of longing in Satie’s Je Te Veux, before punching the air dramatically in his rendition of Valente’s Passione (thanks, Wikipedia!). Here, in this modern, luxurious setting, was simply a cancer survivor from a village in Spain singing his heart out about love and loss. His voice reinforced that these shows are about much more than face-value beauty: it really is all about the music. Afterwards, the halls were filled with chatter about music, culture, and what it must be like to still do what you love when you’re older. Jose Carreras’s next - and last - show in Dubai was already sold out.
Waiting for valet in front of the shiny, state-of-the-art opera house with a sea of glittering Cartier jeweler on display inside, none of us were talking about what we wore or who we saw. The focus was on the power of music; the memories his songs evoked for us, how to pre-order tickets for The Nutcracker, when we will see local talent grace the stage. I’ve been singing opera in the car for a week, which is only *slightly* awkward when I make eye contact with people at traffic lights. That’s the greatest gift of nights like these: long after the show is over, the music lives on.SHOW MORE