THE STRINGS THAT BIND

Oman 2017 | TOURISM & LIFESTYLE | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Umberto Fanni, Director General of Royal Opera House Muscat, on excellence in diversity, maximizing seasonal programming, and enlightening people through the arts.

Umberto Fanni
BIOGRAPHY
A manager with over 28 years of experience in directing and managing opera houses, theaters, and festivals, mainly in the field of music (both operatic and symphonic, but also jazz, world music, and crossover projects), Umberto Fanni has a proven track record in the artistic and administrative aspects of performing arts. Since the beginning of his career, he has paid attention to the well-calibrated connection between artistic skills and managerial competences, with special care to strategic artistic planning, budget administration and control, and staff management. He has managed annual budgets between EUR5 and 70 million. In addition to being a pianist, he has taught at the University of Milan for 20 years.

What was the vision behind the creation of the Royal Opera House Muscat?

It is important to see the advent of the Royal Opera House Muscat (ROHM) in the greater context of the vision of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos. Over the past 46 years His Majesty has transformed Oman into a modern nation while preserving its rich traditional heritage culture. In creating the ROHM, His Majesty had the noble aim of fostering world peace and harmony through the performing arts, especially music as the universal language of humanity.

The 2016-2017 season is titled “Excellence in Diversity.” What is the artistic idea behind this title for the coming season?

The signature phrase Excellence in Diversity encapsulates the ROHM concept of enhancing the excellence of the Royal Opera House by emphasizing diversity through different genres from various cultures around the world for a season of balanced programs at a high standard. Diversity is the key consideration that governs ROHM's program planning strategies. Balanced selections include a broad range of genres encompassing opera, symphonic concerts, both vocal and instrumental recitals, ballet, musicals, world shows, jazz, productions for families and children as well as our own original productions and special events.

How does ROHM work to attract tourists and local residents to its variety of shows and events?

The ROHM is in itself an attraction that brings tourists to the city, not only because of its renowned contemporary Omani architecture, but also because of its stellar programming. The production and programming are superb and feature a high caliber of world-famous stars, orchestras, and opera and ballet companies in productions for which it is difficult to get tickets in the great opera houses of Europe or America, let alone at a reasonable cost. ROHM offers ticket prices to suit a range of budgets, with seats as low as USD6, and VIP seats at an upper limit of USD165, with a reasonable range of prices in between. The ROHM Auditorium was carefully designed so that all seats—and this means every single seat in the house regardless of price—have a good view of the stage.

What are the educational and outreach initiatives at the Royal Opera House?

More than 16,000 students have participated in ROHM's educational outreach and open house events during this past season, all of which are free of charge. These initiatives take place in the main building which houses the auditorium and also in the equally stunning commercial Opera Galleria wing of the ROHM complex. We are now engaged in further efforts to expand and deepen our relationships with private and public schools in Muscat. One of our most successful ventures was a customized, one-hour opera through a process that included school teachers and engaged students as interactive participants who directed the action from their seats in the audience with props and sang along in Italian and Arabic on cue.

What are your expectations for the next 12 months?

The first priority is to ensure the smooth running of, and a high level of participation in, the wonderful season to come. Also of high importance is the continued training of Omanis as administrative and managerial staff, and as technicians and staging and costume specialists in theater arts. We currently have 223 employees, of which 73% are Omani nationals. As the ROHM is an opera house for the people of Oman, I aim to develop a future staff complement that is more than 90% Omani.