Stage is set for Saudi Arabia’s first Arabic grand opera

Sawsan AlBahiti, the first Saudi opera singer, will perform the role of the bridesmaid in Zarqa Al-Yamama. (Supplied)
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Updated 17 April 2024

Stage is set for Saudi Arabia’s first Arabic grand opera

  • ‘Zarqa Al-Yamama’ aims to bring Saudi heritage to life and lead the way into a new cultural era in the Kingdom
  • Saudi singers Sawsan Al-Bahiti, Khayran Al-Zahrani and Reemaz Oqbi take on 3 key roles in the opera

RIYADH: With just a week to go, the stage is set for the eagerly anticipated first performance of “Zarqa Al-Yamama,” which organizers describe as the first grand Saudi opera in Arabic, at King Fahd Cultural Center in Riyadh on April 25.

The libretto will be sung in Arabic, which is rare in opera as the vast majority of works are performed in European languages. As such, the Kingdom’s Theater and Performing Arts Commission said the event, which takes place under the patronage of Minister of Culture Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Farhan, marks a turning point in an increasingly vibrant Saudi cultural scene, given the high artistic value of opera and the interest of connoisseurs and audiences around the world in the art form.

“Zarqa Al-Yamama” is based on well-known sung poems and music inspired by the operatic tradition, together with elements of Saudi music. It tells the story of the legendary figure Zarqa Al-Yamama, who lived in the Al-Yamama region of Najd during the pre-Islamic era and is caught up in a dispute between her tribe and another that ends in tragedy.

The producers describe the opera as a poignant tragedy with breathtaking suspense, brought to life in a state-of-the-art theatrical production filled with sweeping orchestral movements and mesmerizing choral performances that deliver a unique cultural experience. 

Sawsan AlBahiti. (Supplied)

Sultan Al-Bazie, the CEO of the Theater and Performing Arts Commission, said the opera embodies well-established elements of Saudi heritage and presents a well-known story within a contemporary framework that reflects modern artistic trends and audience expectations.

It is a collaborative project featuring Saudi and international artists. Saudi poet Saleh Zamanan, who has received several local and international awards for his poetry and plays, wrote the words, inspired by the historical story of Zarqa and adding his own literary stamp.

Saudi artists Sawsan Al-Bahiti, Khayran Al-Zahrani and Reemaz Oqbi take on three key roles in the opera, which is a sign of the progress in the development of musical entertainment in the Kingdom.

“I will be performing the role of the bridesmaid, which is part of a major scene in the opera where the story takes a major turn to more thrilling events,” Al-Bahiti told Arab News.

Considered the first Saudi opera singer, she has been leading the way in the development of the Saudi opera scene and “Zarqa Al-Yamama” provides the latest showcase for her incredible vocal talent. She said the production is contemporary and innovative, and demonstrates a rich complexity that will captivate the audience.

“From the day I started training as an opera singer in 2008, I dreamed of an original Saudi opera production sung in Arabic,” said Al-Bahiti. “This day has finally come, and arrived sooner than I expected, which makes me even happier.”

Amid the rapid development and evolution of all forms of entertainment in Saudi Arabia in recent years, “Zarqa Al-Yamama” represents a significant step forward for opera in the Kingdom, and Al-Bahiti serves as a shining example of the growing opportunities as the art form continues to evolve and grow.

“Zarqa Al-Yamama” will run from April 25 until May 4, with 10 performances scheduled.

Speedy and secure, Haramain High Speed Railway enhances Hajj experience

Umrah pilgrims wearing ihram walk at a Haramain High Speed Railway station. (SPA)
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Speedy and secure, Haramain High Speed Railway enhances Hajj experience

  • The Haramain High Speed Railway plays a crucial role in the Hajj season’s transportation system
  • Its operational plan incorporates more than 3,800 trips, offering more than 1.6 million seats to serve pilgrims and visitors in Madinah

RIYADH: The Haramain High Speed Railway offers pilgrims and travelers a safe and efficient way to navigate between holy sites.

The Saudi Press Agency recently witnessed the smooth operations at the Madinah station, the punctual arrivals and departures of trains carrying hundreds of pilgrims, Umrah performers, citizens and residents.

The train travels with regularity and is easy to use. At the station, SPA witnessed a streamlined process — travelers verify their reservations, head to the departure hall and board the train. The 13 rail cars offer ample seating. One car is dedicated to food and beverages.

Yahya Al-Sharqawi, from Egypt, expressed satisfaction with the ease and safety of the journey, highlighting the convenience of traveling directly from Jeddah airport to Madinah. He commended the Kingdom’s commitment to facilitating pilgrims’ movement.

Anwar Badr, another Egyptian visitor, was pleased with the many transportation options available, and the ease with which the Grand Mosque and the Prophet’s Mosque can be reached, and expressed gratitude for the exceptional services provided to pilgrims.

Ali Rajabi, from Iran, echoed these sentiments, praising the comfort and convenience offered by the Haramain High Speed Railway. He said that the project serves pilgrims from all corners of the globe.

The Madinah station caters to travelers’ needs with a variety of amenities. Parking is available below the station, and self-service kiosks handle reservations and ticketing.

Information and assistance offices help to navigate the facilities. Multiple arrival and departure halls ensure smooth passenger flow, with seasonal halls specifically dedicated to serving pilgrims during peak periods.

For added convenience, the station boasts retail outlets selling food and beverages, as well as companies offering housing and car rental services. A permanent health center provides on-site medical care.

The Haramain High Speed Railway plays a crucial role in the Hajj season’s transportation system. Its operational plan incorporates more than 3,800 trips, offering more than 1.6 million seats to serve pilgrims and visitors in Madinah.

This efficient and modern railway system is a testament to Saudi Arabia’s dedication to ensuring a smooth and fulfilling Hajj experience for all, SPA reported.

Saudi Arabia showcases geospatial innovation at Ghana forum

Updated 18 min 38 sec ago

Saudi Arabia showcases geospatial innovation at Ghana forum

  • The conference highlights the significance of investing in technologies, artificial intelligence, and innovation in surveying and geospatial activities

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s General Authority for Survey and Geospatial Information is participating in the annual Conference of the International Federation of Surveyors in Accra, Ghana, from May 19-24.

The conference highlights the significance of investing in technologies, artificial intelligence, and innovation in surveying and geospatial activities, aiming for a flexible environment and sustainable management of natural resources.

Attendees will exchange expertise and learn best practices in the field.

The Saudi authority delivered a technical presentation, “Surveying and Geospatial Information in Saudi Arabia: Past, Present, and Future Aspirations,” during the event, attended by FIG President Diane Dumashie, vice presidents and experts.

Saudi ambassador to Ghana and Togo, Sultan Al-Dakhil, visited the authority’s booth, appreciating its efforts to strengthen partnerships with international organizations.

With more than 1,500 participants from 80 countries, the conference facilitates international collaborations among government bodies, the private sector, academia, and global expertise centers through 70 scientific sessions.

Saudi fund boosts film financing at Cannes festival

Updated 56 min 37 sec ago

Saudi fund boosts film financing at Cannes festival

RIYADH: The Cultural Development Fund, a vital financial engine for Saudi Arabia’s culture sector, along with partners from the Kingdom’s film industry, are presenting film financing and investment opportunities at the 77th annual Cannes International Film Festival, held from May 14 to 25.

The fund is present at the festival for the third year, in line with its mission of nurturing the domestic film scene and strengthening its role as a key enabler of cultural growth.

The fund highlights its Film Sector Financing Program at the Saudi pavilion, led by the Film Commission. The program offers comprehensive financial packages that support the entire filmmaking process, from creation and production to distribution, for both local and foreign companies working on film and TV series in Saudi Arabia.

It also provides an opportunity for companies and investment funds to participate in the Kingdom’s film industry and contribute to its development.

Its participation in the Cannes event aligns with its continuous efforts to attract filmmakers and investment.

The fund aims to be a leader in the Saudi film industry and collaborates with other stakeholders to build a sustainable film sector that contributes to the national gross domestic product.

Established under the National Development Fund in 2021, the fund aims to invigorate Saudi Arabia’s cultural scene. By supporting a range of cultural endeavors and facilitating investment, the fund fosters a thriving domestic cultural sector, aligning with the National Culture Strategy and Saudi Vision 2030.

Madinah hosts Hajj permit awareness exhibition

Updated 22 May 2024

Madinah hosts Hajj permit awareness exhibition

  • The event will explain how artificial intelligence is used to manage the Hajj crowds

RIYADH: “No Hajj Without a Permit” is the title of a mobile exhibition being held in Madinah until May 25 to raise awareness about safe and secure Hajj practices.

Organized by the Ministry of Interior, the event will explain how artificial intelligence is used to manage the Hajj crowds. Visitors will also learn about the Makkah Route Initiative, part of the broader Pilgrim Experience Program under Saudi Vision 2030.

As well as highlighting the ministry’s efforts to ensure the security and safety of visitors to the Two Holy Mosques, it explains emergency reporting procedures through the unified security operations centers (911) and the services offered on the Absher electronic platform.

Meanwhile, the Saudi Data and Artificial Intelligence Authority continues to collaborate with government agencies on the Makkah Route Initiative, implementing the scheme at 11 airports in seven countries.

At Jakarta International Airport in Indonesia, for example, SDAIA uses advanced technical systems and infrastructure in the pilgrim hall to simplify the Hajj experience.

The setup includes 12 interconnected workstations equipped with state-of-the-art technologies that integrate with SDAIA’s National Information Center systems, expediting pilgrims’ procedures. Technical support is provided 24/7 by a team of engineers, reflecting SDAIA’s commitment to leveraging AI, innovation and digital transformation to deliver exceptional service.

From Paris to Riyadh: ‘Perfumes of the East’ showcases Arab heritage

Updated 22 May 2024

From Paris to Riyadh: ‘Perfumes of the East’ showcases Arab heritage

  • Exhibition highlights cultural significance and art of perfume-making

RIYADH: The “Perfumes of the East” exhibition has made its first international stop in Riyadh. 

It is a collaboration between the Saudi National Museum and the Ministry of Culture in partnership with the Arab World Institute in Paris.

The exhibition, which will continue until Sept. 14 at the museum, provides its guests with a journey through the richness of the Arab world’s perfumes, showcasing the fragrances and scents of the East, the cultural traditions that have influenced perfumes and their significant social role in Saudi culture.

The French ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Ludovic Pouille, and Christophe Farnaud, the EU ambassador, were among the attendees at the opening ceremony, along with other delegates from the Arab World Institute, leaders from the Ministry of Culture and the Museums Commission, and artists from the Kingdom, the Arab world and France.

The French ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Ludovic Pouille, during the exhibition. (AN/Loai Elkelawy)

“Perfumes of the East is an amazing exhibition, which was brought from Paris to Riyadh,” Pouille said. “It was presented first at the Arab World Institute in Paris, and it was a great success ... so many people visited it.

“It is amazing because you mix history and also artworks. You have artists who have been part of this exhibition, and this is the beauty of it. It is not just the history of perfumes in the Middle East, it is more than that.

“I am amazed by the jasmine dress by a young Saudi artist, who was also there in Paris, and of course, you can smell jasmine, but it is more than that. It is about heritage, the Saudi traditions, and I am fond of it,” the French envoy said.

The exhibition highlighted the cultural and historical importance of perfume in Saudi Arabia and the Arab world, providing insight into its origins in the Arabian peninsula, an important trading hub through which aromatic plants and spices were distributed among ancient societies.

“A distinguished exhibition that revives an authentic national heritage in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” said Dalia Seoudy, one of the guests at the museum. “It presents fragrant knowledge and surrounds one of the most important elements of intangible Saudi heritage, a journey between the roses of Taif and the jasmine of the southern region. This museum reminded me of perfumes in Paris, but it is very authentic, creative and beautiful.”

Christophe Farnaud, the European Union Ambassador at Perfumes of the East exhibition in Riyadh. (AN/Loai Elkelawy)

The exhibition has been designed to create a balance of olfactory and visual experiences for visitors, with scent-releasing devices carefully placed and handpicked for the exhibition by internationally acclaimed perfume designer Christopher Sheldrake.

More than 200 artifacts and artworks, both ancient and contemporary, are on display, weaving a narrative of the enduring relationship between the Arab world and perfume.

The exhibition unfolds through distinct spaces — from the raw beauty of nature to bustling town streets and the setting of a private home. This trajectory enables visitors to experience the evolution of perfume-making through a blend of historical treasures and modern artistic expressions.

This exhibition aligns with the National Museum’s commitment to celebrating Saudi Arabia’s cultural heritage and the enduring legacy of Arab and Islamic civilization.

It offers a multi-faceted educational and cultural experience, enriched by accompanying workshops and seminars that delve into the composition of perfumes, the intricate process of their creation, and the artistic design of perfume packaging.