Zarqa Al Yamama: Saudi Arabia announces its first grand opera

Featuring English opera star Sarah Connolly, the original work is based on a pre-Islamic Arabian story

Soprano Sarah Connolly will play the title role in the Saudi grand opera Zarqa Al Yamama. Photo: Opera Hwadi
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Saudi Arabia will stage its first grand opera in April.

Inspired by an ancient folk tale, Zarqa Al Yamama will run from April 25 to May 4 in a yet-to-be-revealed venue in Riyadh.

Developed by Saudi Arabia’s Theatre and Performing Arts Commission, the production is touted as the first grand opera – a format defined by its serious plot and continuous music – staged in the kingdom.

Zarqa Al Yamama is based on a pre-Islamic Arabian story about a woman blessed with foresight unsuccessfully warning her tribe of imminent danger.

The opera features an original score written and composed by Australia's Lee Bradshaw ad was adapted to the stage by Saudi writer and poet Saleh Zamanan. English opera star Sarah Connolly appears in the title role.

Saudi vocalists Khayran Al Zahrani, Sawsan Al Bahiti and Reemaz Oqbi also appear in main roles.

In an exclusive interview with The National, Connolly describes the role as one of the most momentous of her three-decade career.

“I have nothing to compare to when it comes to this project in Riyadh, but what I have learnt from my experience is that it's very important to appreciate good music where it’s from,” she says.

“It's much more important for me as an artist to do something new, worthwhile and that's collaborative and trendsetting.”

Sultan Al Bazie, chief executive of Saudi Arabia’s Theatre and Performing Arts Commission, confirms that Zarqa Al Yamama is one of a number of initiatives the organisation hopes to develop and stage in the country before taking the production on the road.

“It is available to tour the world because operas are always looking for new productions and content that is different from what they see not only in the West but the East as well,” he tells The National.

“I believe we need to tap into the great wealth of stories in Arabian culture, especially in the Arabian Peninsula. The history from the pre-Islamic, Islamic and modern days are full of tales that could be an inspiration for the world.

“We are used to seeing our stories told by others, so it’s time for us to tell our story ourselves and we are obliged to do that.”

The opera's international cast will include Italian soprano and tenor Serena Farnocchia and Paride Cataldo, as well as British baritone George von Bergen.

The score will be performed by Germany’s Dresdner Sinfoniker, one of the leading symphony orchestras for contemporary music.

Vocal accompaniment is provided by the Czech Philharmonic Choir, while staging and special effects have been devised by Italian director Daniele Finzi Pasca.

Updated: January 14, 2024, 6:27 AM