Saudis rejoice as opera comes to life in Riyadh


RIYADH: Opera came to life in Saudi Arabia on the weekend with performances of a classic Arabian love story in front of a delighted audience in Riyadh.

The Opera Lebanon production of Antar and Abla thrilled a stadium full of music lovers at the Princess Noura University.

“It was a wonderful initiative that portrayed Arabic culture and heritage through a musical interpretation, for the whole family to enjoy,” said Muna AbuSulayman, who saw the show on Friday.

And if the audience loved the performers, the performers were equally delighted with the audience. “You could feel their energy. It was magnificent,” the Lebanese soprano Lara Jokhadar, who played Abla, told Arab News after the show.

The singer who played Antar, Wadih Abi Raad, also from Lebanon, remarked: “The audience were very responsive to the opera, even, if we may say, thirsty for the opera and this kind of classy entertainment.

“I love it and loved the audience’s honest response to our performance. They felt our performance wholeheartedly and we felt their earnest response. It’s a pleasure and an honour to perform for educated people, like the Saudis, and they were earnest in their feelings. I am happy and joyful. I would do it again with pleasure, for the lovely Saudi people.”

The opera retells the legendary story of a sixth-century Arab warrior and poet, Antar, and his forbidden but undying love for his beautiful cousin, Abla. Composed by Maroun Al-Rahi, Antoine Maalouf and Nayer Nagui, it premiered in Beirut in July 2016 and has also been performed in Bahrain.

‘The General Entertainment Authority encouraged us to do an Arabic opera rather than an international one,” said Amira Al-Taweel, chief executive of the sponsors, TIME Entertainment.

“The story stems from our heritage and culture. I very much enjoyed it as did the audience. After the show, I asked the team of performers for their honest opinion of how it went, and they answered that this was the best audience they have performed in front of until now.

“We are so happy and proud!”

This opera is the latest in the series of positive and modern developments being made in the kingdom, long known for its ultra-conservative atmosphere, driven by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.