One activity that needs to be high on your ‘must-do’ list if you visit Oman is a night at the Royal Opera House in Muscat.
On my first visit to Muscat four years ago, I wandered round the outside of the white building, but couldn’t get inside even for a brief glimpse. Of course, what I really wanted to do was get in to see a performance, but I never got the chance.
This time, as soon as a friend mentioned wanting to go to see the opera that was going to be on for two nights only, I knew I had to go. This could be my one and only chance. Even though I’m sure I’ll visit Oman again, I won’t necessarily get the chance to go to the opera.
I didn’t know what the opera was and I’m not particularly a fan of opera, but I didn’t care. This was my chance to visit the Royal Opera House in Muscat which I’ve heard so much about.
Getting a Ticket
I tried to book tickets on both my phone and my tablet, but although everything else seemed to work on the website, for some reason I couldn’t access the ticket page. The friend I was planning to go with could get it fine on her laptop at home, but when we met for brunch and tried to actually book the tickets using her phone (we wanted to be together to choose the seats) she had the same problem as I’d been having. All I can think of is that that part of the website isn’t set up for phone and tablet use which seems a bit strange. Anyway, once she got back home and back onto her laptop she was able to book our tickets. I’m mentioning this in case you have similar problems. Don’t let it put you off! Either find someone with a computer to help you or go along to the box office. You could phone as well, but as phone calls were going to cost me at least £1 a minute with my UK sim I didn’t consider that to be a option.
What to Wear
Next I had to decide what to wear. It’s smart. Of course I hadn’t brought any smart clothes with me. I had a pair of smartish trousers that would do, but no top to go with them. I looked round a big shopping mall, but didn’t find anything suitable. For some reason the shops all seemed to be selling clothes for a northern European winter with lots of jumpers and even hats and scarves. As it was still 30+ degrees in Muscat and never gets that cold this confused me.
I even considered buying an abaya (a long black dress that is worn over your other clothes) thinking it would be a great solution to the perennial ‘I’ve got nothing to wear’ problem. I found some in the supermarket for 5 riyals (about £10), but when I tried one on it was extremely tight and clingy across my boobs which kind of defeats the object of it being loose and flowing and ‘hiding’ my body. (And even if tight and clingy had been acceptable it would have been way too uncomfortable in the heat). In the end I borrowed a top from a friend and actually managed to put quite a good outfit together.
The moral of this bit of the story is to always carry an outfit suitable for a night at a royal opera house.
There are a few other points to be aware of though if you are considering a night at Muscat’s Royal Opera House. Remember you are in a Muslim country in the Middle East. Although you can get away with quite a lot (but just because you can doesn’t mean you should), there is quite a strict dress code at the Opera House.
Women – don’t wear anything that leaves you with bare shoulders or knees. If you are deemed to be inappropriately dressed you will be given an abaya to wear over your clothes.
Men – a business or formal suit or at least a jacket. Unless you want to go traditional and wear a dishdasha (a long white robe). However, if you do decide to go Omani style, please note you will not be allowed to bring your khanjar (traditional curved dagger) in with you. If you arrive without a jacket the Opera House does have a rack of jackets from which you can borrow one.
This is what it says regarding dress code on the Royal Opera House Facebook page:
We’ve noticed quite a few queries around the dress code at ROH Muscat. Here’s our version as to how to dress for the Opera.
– Our dress code is formal or business. For Omanis, this means Dishdasha and Massar (no khanjar) for men and formal attire for women. For Non-Omanis, this means suits for men and long dresses for females.
– Please note that local culture requires conservative dress. So please, no exposed shoulders and short dresses above the knees.
Also worth remembering is that it’s HOT. So take that into consideration too when planning your outfit.
Arriving at the Royal Opera House
If you are arriving by car there is a large multi-storey free car park at the Opera House. It was really easy to find a space when we arrived which was about half an hour before the opera was due to start. I’d been warned to allow plenty of time as if you are late you might not be allowed in. Although it was easy to get into the car park, leaving at the end of the evening was another matter. So many cars were leaving at once it took ages to get out, so if you’re going to need to leave quickly then maybe consider parking on a nearby street rather than in the official car park.
As you enter the Royal Opera House you need to go through airport type security and put your bag through the x-ray machine. I had some water in my bag, but I wasn’t allowed to take it in. I don’t know if the ‘no liquids’ rule is for the same reasons as on flights or if it’s just because they want you to buy drinks inside. I assume it’s the latter.
The box office to collect tickets and buy programmes is on the right as you enter the main hall and the toilets are to the left.
Entering the Auditorium
The young Omani men and women who were taking tickets looked both stunning and elegant in colourful costumes. These are traditional, but very different to the usual black abayas and white dishdashas. The friend I was with is an English teacher at a Muscat college and several times she heard her name being called and turned to find one of her former students now working at the Opera House.
I’d bought a bottle of water to replace the one I’d lost at security only to find that even drinks bought inside the Opera House can’t actually be taken inside the auditorium. As I’d just paid two riyals (four quid!) for a small bottle of Evian I wasn’t about to give it up and shoved it down to the bottom of my bag. Fortunately there were no more security checks and I smuggled my water in successfully. I didn’t need to drink it during the performance, but if I hadn’t had it with me I would have spent the entire time being worried that I might have a sudden coughing fit.
Performances at the Royal Opera House are popular and so there wasn’t much choice of seating left when we bought our tickets just the day before. Consequently we paid quite a lot.
How much do you think quite a lot is?
Compared to other opera houses and theatres around the world it really wasn’t that much. Our seats cost 24 riyals (£48) each and we were right near the front. Looking around all seats seemed to have a good view though and so I’m sure cheaper seats would have been fine had the tickets still been available.
I suppose I should mention what I actually saw. It was L’Occasione Fa Il Ladro with music by Gioachino Rossini. It’s a comedy of mistaken identities and begins when two men meet as they shelter from a storm. Upon leaving their bags get mixed up. One man sees this as a stroke of luck and decides to take on the identity of the other which includes travelling to the home of the man’s betrothed and claiming the bride for himself. Both men arrive, the right man with no papers and the wrong man with the right papers. The bride-to-be meanwhile has got cold feet and swapped roles with her maid as a kind of test to see who her suitor really falls in love with. Of course it all comes right in the end and everyone lives happily ever after.
Although the performance was sung in Italian, I was easily able to follow along as the back of each seat had a screen with subtitles in both English and Arabic. There were also subtitles above the stage.
In fact it was so easy to follow and I was so engaged in the performance that when the story seemed to be drawing to a close I was surprised and thought, ‘but it’s supposed to be a 90 minute performance and it’s nearly over though it’s only been about half an hour’.
Then I checked my watch and was even more surprised to realise that almost an hour and a half had passed!
What Can You See at the Royal Opera House
The performance I saw was an opera and ran for just two nights. The programme seems to change frequently and encompasses many different types of show.
For example, over the next couple of months there is a display of military music and pageantry; a children’s ballet version of Cinderella; a homage to Pavarotti; traditional dances and The Moth Princess which is an opera aimed at children and inspired by Puccini’s Turandot. In the past Placido Domingo has performed here.
Sultan Qaboos bin Said, Oman’s ruler, is known to be passionate about classical music and wanted to bring this art form to the Gulf. The Royal Opera House, built at his behest, first opened its doors in 2011.
From the exterior the palatial white building displays the straight lines, arches and slit windows redolent of the forts that can be seen all over Oman. The interior has wide open spaces, majestic staircases, glittering chandeliers and gold leaf galore, yet it’s subtle and pleasing to the eye rather than the brash and in-your- face look I was partly expecting.
The complex includes shops and restaurants and is surrounded by landscaped gardens.
In a Nutshell
- If you are going to be spending time in Oman put a visit to the Royal Opera House in Muscat at the top of your list.
- Try to buy a ticket in advance so you have a choice of seats and prices, but even if it’s last minute you’ll likely pay less than you would at home.
- There are no ‘bad’ seats.
- You might need to go to the box office or borrow a computer to book.
- Pay attention to the dress code though you should be able to borrow an abaya or jacket if need be.
- You will need to pass through a security check to get into the Royal Opera House and will have liquids and khanjars confiscated.
- You are not allowed to take drinks (even expensive water purchased inside the Opera House) into the auditorium.
- Don’t forget your camera. You won’t be allowed to take photos of the performance, but you will want to take pictures of the building.
- There are subtitles.
- Parking is free, but it could take you a while to get out of the car park after the performance.
The Royal Opera House also runs daily tours of the building for three riyals (£6). This is on my list of thing to do for my next visit.
Do you like visiting theatres and opera houses on your travels? Which have you been most impressed by? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
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