UAE gift helps French palace reopen ‘forgotten theater’

The Napoleon III theater at Fontainebleau Palace south of Paris was built between 1853 and 1856 under the reign of the nephew of emperor Napoleon I. (AFP)
Updated 18 June 2019
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UAE gift helps French palace reopen ‘forgotten theater’

  • Now called the Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al-Nahyan Theatre, it is the latest example of the close relations between Paris and Abu Dhabi
  • The UAE capital already hosts the Louvre Abu Dhabi, opened by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed and President Emmanuel Macron in 2017

FONTAINEBLEAU: An exquisite 19th-century French theater outside Paris that fell into disuse for one and half centuries has been restored with the help of a €10 million donation from oil-rich Abu Dhabi.
The Napoleon III theater at Fontainebleau Palace south of Paris was built between 1853 and 1856 under the reign of the nephew of emperor Napoleon I.
It opened in 1857 but was used only a dozen times, which has helped preserve its gilded adornments, before being abandoned in 1870 after the fall of Napoleon III.
But during a state visit to France in 2007, Sheikh Khalifa, ruler of Abu Dhabi and president of the United Arab Emirates, was reportedly entranced by the abandoned theater and offered €10 million ($11.2 million) on the spot for its restoration.
After a project that has lasted 12 years the theater is now being reopened.
An official inauguration is expected soon, hosted by French Culture Minister Franck Riester and attended by UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan.
Now called the Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al-Nahyan Theatre, it is the latest example of the close relations between Paris and Abu Dhabi.
The UAE capital already hosts the Louvre Abu Dhabi, opened by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed and President Emmanuel Macron in 2017, the first foreign institution to carry the name of the great Paris museum.
For all its ornate beauty, the theater has hardly ever been used for its orginal purpose, hosting only a dozen performances between 1857 and 1868, each attended by around 400 people.
“While it had been forgotten, the theater was in an almost perfect state,” said the head of the Fontainebleau Palace, Jean-Francois Hebert.
“Let us not waste this jewel, and show this extraordinary place of decorative arts,” he added.
According to the palace, the theater is “probably the last in Europe to have kept almost all its original machinery, lighting and decor.”
Having such a theater was the desire of Napoleon III’s wife Eugenie. But after the defeat, his capture in the Franco-Prussian war in 1870 and the declaration of France’s Third Republic, the theater fell into virtual oblivion.
Following the renovation, the theater will mainly be a place to visit and admire, rather than for regularly holding concerts.
“The aim is not to give the theater back to its first vocation” given its “very fragile structure,” said Hebert.
Short shows and recitals may be performed in exceptional cases, under the tightest security measures and fire regulations. But regular guided tours will allow visitors to discover the site, including the stage sets.
The restoration aimed to use as little new material as possible, with 80 percent of the original material preserved.
The opulent central chandelier — three meters high and 2.5 meters wide — has been restored to its original form.


Season of change: Jeddah gets the party started

Jeddah Season. (Huda Bashatah)
Updated 22 July 2019
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Season of change: Jeddah gets the party started

Here are some highlights from the first Jeddah Season — from K-pop superstars to Shakespeare in Arabic. 

Sporting sensations 

The first Jeddah Season kicked off with a WWE Super ShowDown at King Abdullah Sports City. The event featured wrestling legends including Goldberg, the Undertaker, Triple H, and Randy Orton. It also included the largest Battle Royal Match in WWE history, with 50 stars scrapping it out simultaneously. Hometown boy Mansoor Al-Shehail (pictured) emerged victorious. “I can’t ask for anything better,” he said.

On July 12, British boxer Amir Khan claimed the WBC International Welterweight belt with a fourth-round stoppage against Australia’s Billy Dib. Khan has since claimed that he will return to the Kingdom in November to face Filipino legend Manny Pacquiao.

Arab legends

Music has been a major focus of Jeddah Season, and several of the region’s most popular performers visited the city over the past month to thrill their fans. Lebanese icons Nancy Ajram and ‘King of Romance’ Wael Kfoury (pictured), local legend Mohammad Abdo, Egyptian favourites Amr Diab, Angham, and Mohamed Hamaki, and Khaleeji stars Ahlam and Rashed Al-Majed were among those who performed.

International superstars

It wasn’t just regional artists who took to the stage during Jeddah Season — numerous international A-listers also arrived in the city to put on a show. From K-pop chart-toppers Super Junior (pictured) and Stray Kids, through big-name DJs including Martin Garrix, Steve Aoki, Marshmello and Dutch duo Afrojack and R3hab, through Nineties hit-machine Backstreet Boys, to the final night’s Jeddah World Festival’s stellar lineup — which included Future, 50 Cent, ex-One Directioner Liam Payne, and Janet Jackson — Jeddah has witnessed some of the biggest names in music playing live over the past few weeks.

The light fantastic 

Dazzling visual displays were a central part of Jeddah Season. The Flame, Fountain & Laser show in front of XJED was choreographed to regional and international pop hits and became a big hit with visitors. Elsewhere, the Glow Garden — “where art, technology and innovation immerse” — became equally popular, as the underwater world was recreated in Al Hamra. And rounding off most nights were the spectacular fireworks on Jeddah Waterfront.

Shakespeare in Saudi

For a shot of high-brow culture, Jeddah Season also saw a staging of William Shakespeare’s acclaimed tragedy “King Lear” about a monarch who — through his inability to accept criticism and only listen to those who falsely proclaim their love and respect for him — is driven to the verge of insanity. The play, which was translated into Arabic, starred Egyptian actor Yehia El-Fakharany (pictured) in the demanding leading role, with Heba Magdi, Rania Farid Shawki, and Riham Abdel-Ghafour also among the cast. In a press conference prior to opening night, El-Fakharany praised the “arts renaissance occurring in Saudi Arabia,” saying it would “surely inspire the new generation.”

Big-top bonanza 

Jeddah Season saw one of the oldest forms of mass entertainment making a splash — the circus. With the international stylings of Le Teatro Circus — magic, acrobatics, live music, and, as the name suggests, a healthy dose of the dramatic — and the US-based Circus 1903 — a dip into the ‘golden age’ of the traveling show around the turn of the century, complete with knife throwers, high-wire acts, and life-size elephant puppets — in town, Jeddawis were enthralled by this throwback to old-school entertainment.

 

Blue is the color 

American performance artists Blue Man Group were one of the big hits of Jeddah Season with their trademark mix of weird and wonderful music and art — and no dialogue. Judging by the troupe leader Scott Speiser’s interview with Arab News, the performers enjoyed their time in the Kingdom just as much as the audiences did. “The Saudi people seem to have really embraced the show and that makes it even more fun and fulfilling for us,” he said. “The audience here loves to clap in rhythm with the music. We weren’t really ready for it. And, well, we just love it!”