Sultan Qaboos is a lover and promoter of classical music. In 2007, construction began on the Royal Opera House Muscat. It was the third opera to be built in the Islamic world after Egypt and Syria. Later Dubai and Kuwait also built theirs.
Tour of the Royal Opera House Muscat
The building of the Muscat Royal Opera is just as impressive on the outside as it is on the inside. Since we had rented a car we drove from The Chedi Muscat, our hotel in Muscat to the Shati Al-Qurm district. There is free parking on site. The opera is a gigantic white building that contrasts with the blue sky of Oman that for some reason has no clouds. A huge plaza makes up the front of the building with circles on the floor filled with colorful flowers.
There is a cafe with a terrace in the square that would have been ideal to relax. But unfortunately we did not have time. After we were going to visit the Gran Mezquita del Sultán Qaboos and both have visiting hours in the morning.
Between 8:30 – 10:30 a.m. they do 20 minute tours for tourists. They cost 3 OMR (almost $8) per person. Before entering you must go through a security inspection and then wait in the lobby until the next group.
The tour is guided so you have the opportunity to ask all the questions you want. If you do not go on tour you can see the Royal Opera House Muscat from outside or watch a show.
Architecture and design
The architecture of the Royal Opera of Muscat receives its inspiration from Islamic, Arabic and African culture. The design of the outside was inspired by the old castle or fort of Bahla next to Niswa that used to be the capital of Oman.
There are three entrances: general public, VIP and royal family. The candlesticks come from Austria and are made by Swarovski like those of the Gran Mezquita del Sultán Qaboos. The wood is teak brought from Burma or Myanmar. They chose teak because it can last more than 200 years. The details you see were made in Oman.
The designs of the balconies were inspired by those of Morocco that were formerly used to separate women from men. No need to worry, since that does not happen in the Royal Opera House Muscat. The floor is travertine marble imported from Italy. It was selected to help the cooling of the air conditioning system.
Before entering the Royal Opera House Muscat there is a soundproof room made of wood and cotton. It is a barrier so that outside voices do not enter.
The theater originally had 1,100 seats. Then they removed eight rows to lower three levels giving more space to the orchestra, therefore there are fewer seats now. The first three balconies next to the stage can be removed or placed depending on the show. This is done so that people can see better. The roof also moves to accommodate the lights. The scenario changes depending on the presentation, since some like the ballet need more space.
The chairs of the Muscat Royal Opera have screens to translate the presentation into Arabic and English. They do not use microphones since the acoustics are excellent.
In the center of the first level is the balcony of Sultan Qaboos. Nobody can use despite the fact he only went once for the opening in October 2011. The costumes that are displayed on the ground floor were the first show that was ‘Turandot’ led by the Spanish tenor, Plácido Domingo.
Some costumes shown are typical of Oman while others come from Germany. In the hall there are gifts in showcases, including musical instruments that are between 300-400 years old. The guitar is very curious because it has a face. Porcelain comes from France inspired by China. There are also letters and an agenda that belonged to Luciano Pavarotti.
The exact cost of the opera is a mystery since it was a gift from Sultan Qaboos to the people.
Our guide told us that “Sultan Qaboos built the Royal Opera House Muscat to be a bridge between Oman and the rest of the world”. It is a place where traditional arts and music of the Sultanate are exchanged with those of the rest of the world.
Sultan Qaboos has its own orchestra of 120 members. They are known in the Middle East as they travel to play abroad. It exists since 1986 with young Omani who audition since childhood. Sultan Qaboos’s favorite instrument is the organ. That is why the Royal Opera House Muscat has the largest mobile pipe organ in the world, with three organ stops, called “Royal Solo” in his honor.
The season of events begins in September and ends in June of the following year. When internationally renown artists visit it is advisable to buy the tickets with anticipation. But for normal shows it is possible to get them just before the event. The cost depends on the show but it ranges between 3 and 90 OMR for seats. The balconies go up to 400 OMR ($1,040).
Each season there are 16 shows on average. They range from theater, ballet, flamingo, pop, rock, jazz, local music, to opera.
Royal Opera House Muscat has a strict dress code, which includes a ban on jeans, short-sleeved shirts and sneakers. You must also arrive on time because if you arrive late you have to wait until the intermission to enter.
If you visit Muscat check the calendar in the website of the opera to see if there are events and if not separate a morning to do the tour.