Georgina Benison enjoys the Omani Women’s Day Celebration concert at the Royal Opera House Muscat.
With 2016 turning out to be a good year for the female leader (Theresa May, UK; and quite possibly, Hillary Clinton, USA), the Omani Women’s Day Celebration offered a performance any political rally would aspire to; one riven with revelry and some quite superb showmanship.
Eclectic with a capital E, the show lasted for a concise two hours but at no point did the standard drop for a minute.
The first half of the programme was almost exclusively BY women. The latter was definitely FOR women; to indulge and enjoy: the guest appearance (though not a surprise) was Mohammed Assaf, the young, lithe and charming Palestinian singer and winner of Arab Idol 2013. He had ladies swooning in their seats, and singing and clapping along with his rich, engaging tones.
He appeared at his own concert last Saturday night, and was accompanied by the Los Angeles-based Multi Ethnic Star Orchestra (MESTO) under the baton of Nabil S. Azzam – and his three songs here were just a teaser!
The orchestra started with Nabil’s own composition, Yasmin, a delightful concerto for Qanoon played brilliantly by a soloist member of MESTO, Lilit Khojayan.
But I have rather got ahead of myself; the evening kicked off with five of the finest female string players from the ROSO, in a piano quintet.
Their ensemble was sublime in three film score arrangements that concluded with the tricky theme from Schindler’s List by John Williams. Pianist Gokha Al Naabi’s playing was especially exquisite.
Now, take a deep breath and hang on to your seats because the Palestinian Folklore dancers Funoniyat – 16 men and women – can sweep you off your feet. They swirled, leapt, spun and kicked for half-an-hour non-stop. I was exhausted just watching them! I also couldn’t help wondering where they got their energy from. And the costumes were a sight to behold too; with bedouin dresses over trousers and sequined scarves for the women, and Cossack boots for the men under loose, black pantaloons.
The show was highly dramatic – a wedding tableaux in Dabka dance tradition with CD backing – and could only be followed by an intermission.
The second half opened with the Kaliveh Ensemble, from all corners of Iran. Seven instrumentalists and two singers under the direction of Daf (drum) virtuoso Sara Ahmadi, they were as colourful to watch as their folksongs from Kurdistan, Gilan and Khurasan were to listen to.I am not sure that many in the audience, which included a fair number of men, understood a word of Farsi or the other Persian dialects. But this didn’t matter a jot. They were having a whale of a time. The santur (dulcimer) played by Hasti Khoraminzadeh was especially fascinating to witness as some little hammers flew through the air. The instruments are native to Persiaso and most were unfamiliar to us except the oud. However, I wish we could see more of this extraordinary women’s troupe.
For the finale, all the dancers and musicians flooded back on to the stage and joined with Mohammed Assaf in his final Arabic song. Thunderous and well-deserved applause all round, and a theatre that reverberated with energy and joy.