(Bloomberg) -- Hi, it’s Lisa Fleisher, your luxury correspondent for the Middle East. The Gulf is barreling toward the busy season, when the heat subsides and the hotels get filled again.
Here’s what I’ve been picking up lately.
Dubai Tries to Class Up the Opera. The Audience Didn’t Get the Memo
One of the biggest knocks on Dubai is that it doesn’t have any high-brow cultural offerings. Sure, the city is home to Deep Dive Dubai, which at 60 meters (197 feet) is the world’s deepest scuba-diving pool. It’s the perfect place to go to a mall with two Rolex stores, watch robot jockeys race camels or skydive over a set of manmade islands. If museums are your thing, though, you really should head to Abu Dhabi or Doha.
There is, however, the Dubai Opera. When I first moved to Dubai in 2018, I was a little confused by the venue’s name, because very few shows offered were classical music, let alone operas. They were more likely shows you’d want to bring popcorn into than a tin of hard pastilles. After its opening season in 2016, the Opera calendar became dominated by stand-up comedians, musicals and aging rockers among some visiting orchestras and ballets. The Nutcracker is a Christmas stalwart.
This year, the Opera is rebranding itself as a “House of Cultures” under new head and artistic director Paolo Petrocelli. The Italian has fashioned a career as a cultural manager, working with public and private institutions to elevate programming. (Don’t worry, there will still be Jethro Tull, comedian Jim Gaffigan and Phantom of the Opera.)
The season kicked off Sept. 8 with the return to the stage of Swan Lake—at least the third time it’s been put on at the Dubai Opera. After that, Madama Butterfly performed by the Hungarian State Opera had a two-night run.
For later in the season, Petrocelli has attracted heavy hitters to Dubai for the first time, like the orchestra from Milan’s La Scala and the Rome Opera Ballet. Macbeth will be staged for three days in November. Other performers include: pianist Marie Kiyone, violinist David Garrett, soprano Aida Garifullina and violinist Gidon Kremer.
In April, the group MusicAeterna is scheduled to play Tchaikovsky and Wagner for two nights in what’s being described as a “regional first.” It’s another example of Dubai holding the door open for Russians (and their money) when other places aren’t as welcoming: The orchestra has been criticized for maintaining sponsorship from state-owned, sanctioned VTB Bank. The ensemble’s star, charismatic music director, Teodor Currentzis—who formed the group nearly 20 years ago and usually conducts in black-colored street clothes rather than tuxedos—has been criticized for not speaking against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The question is, are Dubai theatergoers ready? At the season’s gala black-tie event for opening night, where VIPs swilled Moët and walked a red carpet under a Van Cleef & Arpels arch, audience behavior suggested attendees are still getting used to the idea. After the performance started, people entered and left the auditorium frequently and at will. While ballet was underway, two people audibly argued over a seat. Announcements to silence and put away mobile phones went unheeded; I counted maybe five distinct alarms and rings during the show. Ushers had to ask patrons to stop taking pictures and videos—some, multiple times—though the phones came back out a minute or so later. I, too, was an offender: I took out my phone to capture the scene. In my defense, I was in a very back row in a box, put my screen brightness all the way down and I was doing this for journalism.
I ran what I saw past the Opera.
“Following the new season launch, Dubai Opera is focused on educating audiences who perhaps are new to Dubai Opera, or new to ballet or opera about what to expect when visiting Dubai Opera for a performance,” an Opera spokesperson said. “This is done by highlighting the procedures in place to ensure an enjoyable performance for all guests. By implementing a no mobile phone policy, and stricter rules around admittance to the auditorium, Dubai Opera is committed to ensuring that our guests fully engage with the performance.”
Abu Dhabi Goes All Out on Restaurants
Yes, Dubai gets all the headlines: It’s the tourism hub, it’s the business hub, and, naturally, it’s home to more Michelin-starred restaurants. It takes up the most spots on the World’s 50 Best list for the region, even though Abu Dhabi’s the one that sponsors the list in the region.
Now, in an attempt to generate some more buzz about its culinary scene, the emirate’s Department of Culture and Tourism is flying in chefs from across the world to make guest appearances at a dozen restaurants in its hotels for stints that span six weekends.
Rodolfo Guzman, who opened the restaurant Boragó in Santiago, kicked off the series Sept. 8 by cooking at Catch at the St. Regis. Mathieu Rostaing, chef at Sillon in Biarritz, France, came through the next day at the Oak Room at the Edition hotel. Other chefs making the journey include Alberto Landgraf from Oteque in Rio de Janeiro, Victoria Blamey from New York’s Mena. Go here to find out more.
Why Ski When You Can Just Après?
Here’s something new at the Four Seasons Hotel Megève in the French Alps: This winter, instead of hitting the slopes, you can snowshoe trek with a mountain guide to an igloo in the middle of a fir forest. On arrival, guests will be given cozy blankets and offered charcuterie, cheese, mulled wine and sweet treats.
Known for its ski-in, ski-out access, the hotel is wooing non-skiers as well. Representatives tell us that’s because more guests from the Middle East are flocking to the destinations despite not being skiers themselves. These guests prefer to see the Alps while indulging at restaurants back at the lodge or slipping away to the spa.
We’ve heard before from travel agents about how the Gulf’s wealthy tourists love going to ski resorts just to post Alpine shots on Instagram. Now it seems hotels are thinking beyond the main attraction, too. — Sarah Rappaport
Picasso Coming for Viewing in Dubai
Finally, you don’t have to go all the way down to the Louvre Abu Dhabi to see a Picasso.
On Sept. 25 and 26, Sotheby’s is bringing the Femme a la Montre (1932) from the Emily Fisher Landau collection to its Dubai showroom. It’s estimated to be worth more than $120 million, and Sotheby’s says it’s the most valuable painting ever to be brought to the region by an auction house. The the painting is of Marie-Thérèse Walter, who had an affair with Picasso starting when she was 17 and he was nearly three decades older, and married. They had a daughter.
My colleague James Tarmy last week wrote about the estate’s full collection—and the importance of this piece in particular. Landau’s daughter Candia Fisher told James her mother bought the piece in 1968 and it hung above a fireplace on Park Avenue. “She was so excited about it,” she says. “It was absolutely the seminal piece, the one and only.”
After Dubai, highlights from the collection will visit Hong Kong, London, Paris, Taipei and Los Angeles before the auction on Nov. 8 and 9 in New York.
More Middle East Luxury News
- How is the Middle East preserving its culinary heritage
- Aman to open 11 Janu hotels with $360 million from UAE investors
- A Saudi basketball account on X posted a snap of LeBron James visiting the kingdom, and the fiancee of murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi denounced the visit.
- This year, the theme was net zero. Next year, with the UAE done with its COP28 hosting duties, the theme for the Arabian Travel Market conference in May will be entrepreneurship.
Other Bloomberg Pursuits Stories You Should See
- In case you missed it: Caesars Palace is out in Dubai as of November, just as the UAE considers gambling regulations
- Vegas’ newest resort is a $3.7 billion palace, 23 years in the making
- The Freddie Mercury auction smashed estimates, netting $50.4 million
- Americans are buying up Scotland’s most expensive housing
- 13 new restaurants around the world on Kate Krader’s radar
Forget about Halloween or Christmas Plan. We’re already hearing about New Years Eve events, starting with Sting playing at the Atlantis the Palm hotel. (Dinner packages start at per person 6,500 dirhams ($1,170) per person for teens and adults. “Golden circle” tickets, which include seats by the front of the stage, unlimited premium Champagne, a “caviar box with personalized truffle service” and more, will cost 9,500 dirhams.
--With assistance from Sarah Rappaport.
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