XPRESS, 22. März 2009
Abu Dhabi Music and Arts Festival opens
Yesterday evening, in the auditorium of the Emirates Palace, a special Opera Gala opened the sixth Abu Dhabi Music and Arts Festival to a full house and unanimous praise. Art and music lovers from all over the United Arab Emirates, the Middle East and from around the world came together to enjoy a feast of operatic favourites and share soaring emotions.

The festival is held under the patronage of His Highness General Shaikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces. Attending last night’s performance were Shaikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al-Nahyan, the UAE Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research, Her Excellency Shaikha Lubna Bint Khalid al-Qassimi, UAE Minister of Foreign Trade, Christine Albanel, the French Minister of Culture and, one of the world’s leading photographers, Andreas Gursky.

Before the Opera Gala, His Excellency Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al-Nahyan, opened the first ever retrospective exhibition of the works of one of the world’s most famous contemporary Arab artists, Dia Al Azzawi. This exhibition will run throughout the festival in The Emirates Palace Auditorium Foyer. The artist will also be showing masterpieces from his recent collection at Abu Dhabi’s Ghaf Gallery throughout the Festival.

The Opera Gala featured two exceptional talents with Romanian soprano Angela Gheorghiu, one of the most glamorous and gifted opera singers of our times and renowned tenor, Jonas Kaufmann, from Germany taking the leading roles in a varied gala. They were accompanied by the Bolshoi Theatre Orchestra under the extremely capable hands of Austrian conductor Ion Marin. It is very rare for two such illustrious singers to appear together on stage and the audience were captivated by the partnership. Previously they have appeared together at the Royal Opera Covent Garden in La Rondine.

Angela Gheorghiu was born in Romania and from early childhood it was obvious that she would become a singer. Her voice and dazzling stage presence have established her as a unique international opera superstar.

Born in Munich, the tenor Jonas Kaufmann is now internationally recognised as one of the most important artists of our day. He has made sensational debuts in recent seasons in many of the world’s leading opera houses. In January 2008 his first solo album, Romantic Arias, became an immediate international best seller.

Ion Marin is one of the most exciting conductors in the world today. He has established a solid reputation both in symphonic and opera repertoire and his operatic activities have included new productions at the Metropolitan Opera, Deutsche Oper Berlin, San Francisco Opera, Opera Bastille, Rossini Opera Festival and the Nuovo Piccolo Teatro in Milan. He has worked with most of the world's greatest singers including Jesse Norman, Placido Domingo and Angela Gheorghiu.

The Opera Gala opened, appropriately, with an opera set in the Middle East with Giuseppe Verdi’s Nabucco and featuring the famous “March of the Hebrew Slaves”. This was followed by a duet, the glorious “Parigi, O Cara” (“Dearest, we shall leave Paris”), from another of Verdi’s operas - La Traviata. Gheorghiu then performed the aria “Ebben! Ne andrò lontana” (“Ah! Shall I shall go far away”) from Alfredo Catalini’s rarely performed La Wally. After which Jonas Kaufmann performed the wistful aria “Pourquoi, me Réveiller” (“Why do you wake me?”) from Jules Massenet’s Werther.

The Bolshoi Theatre Orchestra played the wonderful but tragic Intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana by Pietro Mascagni. More tragedy unfolded with Angela Gheorghiu and Jonas Kaufmann singing the parts of Roméo et Juliette in a touching duet of “Va, je t’ai Pardonnée” (“Go, I forgive you”) from Charles François Gounod’s eponymous opera.

The second half of the Opera Gala opened with the popular Polonaise from Eugene Onegin by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky. The next duet, “E Lucevan le stelle” (“And the stars were shining came from Giacomo Puccini’s fifth opera, Tosca. More Puccini followed with Ms Gheorghiu’s rendition of “Un Bel di Vedremo” (“One fine day”) from Madame Butterfly which brought the house down as this fabulous aria has done so many times in the past.

The Opera Gala then returned to Eugene Onegin, probably the most successful opera by Tchaikovsky, and its magical Waltz. And finally, a great moment from Puccini’s most popular opera, La Bohème with the final duet of the night - the wonderful expression of love in “O Soave Fanciulla” (“O Gentle Maiden”).

Following a rapturous standing ovation, the enthusiast audience were still eager for more. Ms Gheorghiu returned to the stage for a flawless rendition of “I could have danced all night” from My Fair Lady, followed by Mr Kaufmann who captivated with Lehar’s “Dein ist mein ganzes Herz” from The Land of Smiles. Both then joined together for the final two encores of the night - Di Curtis’ “Non ti scordar di me” and Verdi’s “Libiamo” from La Traviata - leaving the audience uplifted and inspired by these two incredible singers.

Abu Dhabi Music and Arts Festival Award and Annual Creativity Award

A major highlight of the evening was the presentation of ADMAF’s Abu Dhabi Music and Arts Festival Award, designed by Chopard, to film-maker Faisal Al Saari and his team by His Excellency Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al-Nahyan. Faisal Al Saari also won this year’s ADMAF Annual Creativity Award. Both awards, established in 2004, seek to support and encourage young national artistic talent across the UAE, and are a key part of ADMAF’s education programme. Faisal Al Saari, a communications and technology graduate from the Higher Colleges of Technology (HCT), was selected as the winner of both awards for his film ‘Story of a Nation’ - a moving telling of the history of the UAE.

The sixth Abu Dhabi Music and Arts Festival is presented by ADMAF with executive producer IMG Artists, the world’s leading performing artist Management Company. It is also the first to involve a collaboration with Flash Entertainment who, together with ADMAF, is bringing Andrea Bocelli to Abu Dhabi for the first time. This year’s Festival is supported by the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage (ADACH) as title sponsor, and sponsored by Mubadala and Etihad Airways.

The Festival runs until April 2 and features a varied programme of ballet, opera, classical and Arabic music, a visual arts component, a strong educational programme and a community programme reaching across all the Emirates. This year the Festival will celebrate the community values of Bilad al Khair or ‘land of blessings’ which is the name usually given to the UAE owing to its wise and just leadership, secure citizens, and bountiful natural resources.

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