Dubai Opera chief executive said the venue had a 75 percent occupancy in 2018
Dubai Opera chief executive Jasper Hope said the programme lined up for the Downtown Dubai venue will be even better than last year’s.
Organisers announced before Christmas that the world famous Phantom of the Opera will come to Dubai this year, in the autumn.
While dates haven’t been confirmed as yet, it’s expected to be announced for October, with at least a two-week run planned - possibly four.
Speaking to Arabian Business about the coming year, and what audiences can expect in 2019, Hope said
This year will see Dubai Opera host its first drama, William Shakespeare’s Othello. Staged by English Touring Theatre, Hope described it as a "brilliant" and different production of the classic play.
“I've seen the production, so I know how good it is. At the moment people [in Dubai] are buying on the strength of the title, Othello, William Shakespeare and 400 years of classic play, they might know the English Touring Theatre, but I suspect they are buying because at the moment there are very few opportunities to go and see quality drama anywhere in the country,” he said.
Hope described the standard of the production as being akin to the Les Misérables show that came to Dubai in 2016.
“I had no idea what drama sales would be like; no-one else had really done it. It was like doing the first musical and opera, you have to have a leap of faith,” he said.
“I believe there is a market for drama and people will see that at the end of January when they see how many people are there.”
Hope said he met with a number of theatre groups in London recently with a “view to bringing other very major and important plays” to Dubai, and not necessarily the classic genre.
“I don't think we'll only do Shakespeare. I need it to be as varied as our musical programme. So I'm looking at much more contemporary written plays, as well. A mix - some old classics, and some more traditional, Shakespeare type things, and some very new things.
“I expect at least one or two [drama plays] in 2019, in addition to Othello, but then from 2020 onwards many more is my hope. Just because Othello does well doesn’t mean that all of them will do well.”
The successful film and orchestra shows will also be making a return this year. This week Dubai Opera announced that The Godfather (February 28) and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (March 1 & 2) will be the first to be shown.
“We had some great success with film and orchestra - we did Jurassic Park and Raiders of the Lost Arc - but for various reasons we weren't able to repeat that recently, so I have some very clear plans to do some of those in 2019.”
He also expects to announce more rock and pop shows for later this year, in addition to the already announced Jake Bugg (Feb 7), HotHouse Flowers (Mar 17), Watershed and Art Mathews (April 18) and Fastlove, a West End tribute to George Michael (April 29).
Hope revealed that while occupancy at Dubai Opera for the year was in the high 70s, the real metric that pleased him more was how the newly established venue was received by artists in the industry.
“I don't have a figure off the top of my head, but it would be up around the 75-plus percent across the whole year,” Hope said.
“It’s (occupancy) clearly an important metric, but it's not the only one. The most important metric we have is when an artist or a person in the business tells me that they have heard from another artist about another artist’s experience and it was good - the acoustics, the welcome or the sold out house, whatever compliment or combination of things it is.
“When I hear that from colleagues or artists in London, Paris, New York, that to me means to me that over the last two and a bit years, we have been doing the right thing, and getting the name of Dubai Opera into the right places.”
Hope said that kind of feedback enables Dubai Opera to attract shows like Phantom of the Opera, “because they are convinced we can do a good job and that there's a good solid audience in Dubai”.
“And that's how you take your number from 75 percent, or whatever it is today, to 80 and so on up. That is what audiences, artists, sponsors, the entertainment business world buys in to, and on any of those measures - from a standing start, for a country that had no theatre at all, no professional theatre space - to be able to announce within two years that Phantom is coming, and to have had the stuff we've had, that's how I measure it.”
Looking back on 2018, Hope said he was genuinely pleased with a programme that he said delivered more variety in a packed programme. He said the previous year was about “getting everything bedded in and learning how the market was going to work”.
“2018 for me was the first proper year. We had to knuckle down and deliver,” Hope said.\
“We had to continue from that early success, a lot of which was based on interest because we were new, and we had to start delivering week on week, month on month.
“I look back now on 2018 and I am genuinely pleased and very proud of what we achieved as a single year’s worth of work. I think it was better. I know we had more shows, and more people, but the quality of those shows. I felt happier with the whole programme.”
Hope picked out the music acts of Rag n Bone Man – “that was sensational night” - Rufus Wainwright and Suzanne Vega as the music highlights.
Of the four operas hosted at Dubai Opera, Hope said his personal highlight was the Polish National opera with Eugene Onegin. “The production was outstanding. It looked amazing,” he said.
Looking back at the ballet performances, he said Swan Lake by the Houston Ballet “was a knockout”.
“It was totally sold out for six shows. The quality of what they brought with that production - people will remember that for a long time to come. We got a ballet company that would be in anybody’s top three ballet companies in America right now, with the work they're doing,” he said.
The year also saw 15,000 people attend Iftar during the Holy Month of Ramadan. ”That was quite an achievement; I was rather pleased with that,” he noted.
“We did a lot of events, like weddings, four Emirati weddings, which is a great additional string to the bow.”