Dubai Opera head lauds local art scene as BBC Proms wraps up

The Dubai Opera in Downtown Dubai. (File/AFP)
Updated 24 March 2019

Dubai Opera head lauds local art scene as BBC Proms wraps up

  • The BBC Proms has only left London three times
  • It first showed in Dubai in 2017

DUBAI: The metropolitan nature of Dubai made it the perfect spot for the BBC Proms’ international lineup of musical acts, which took place at the Dubai Opera from March 19-22, according to the venue’s chief executive.

Although the BBC Proms — one of the biggest classical musical festivals in the world — has only left London three times, it has universal appeal because of its “internationality of music,” Jasper Hope, chief executive of Dubai Opera, told Arab News.

“The Proms features musicians from Sweden and the UK, among other countries, as well as the likes of Bushra El-Turk, a British composer with roots in the Middle East,” Hope said.

To add more of a local twist to the British festival, Dubai Opera formed the “Dubai Opera Festival Chorus,” a singing group composed of local residents who performed alongside world-class musicians at the Proms.

Asked when the group will perform in any other shows, Hope said: “When you have formed a really talented group, you know you have to continue going,” without giving specific details on future performances.

Hope was particularly excited that they have managed to bring the BBC Proms back for the second time, only two years after its Middle East debut in 2017.  Hope recalled the debut event, saying much of the crowd were first timers.

“The BBC Proms is all about making classical music accessible to everyone… People can be nervous when attending something called an opera,” he said, as he emphasized Dubai Opera’s role in “inspiring (the) local community to take interest” in the culture and arts scene.

Established in 1895, the BBC Proms is based predominantly in London’s Royal Albert Hall. It was derived from the British tradition of “promming,” usually held in public gardens around London. 

Farm to table: Lebanese initiative ‘From the Villages’ celebrates local talent 

Updated 20 October 2020

Farm to table: Lebanese initiative ‘From the Villages’ celebrates local talent 

DUBAI: In an act of solidarity with Lebanon’s villagers, farmers and local artisans, a group of innovative Lebanese graduates are operating an online platform that provides a wide array of their homemade products and crafts to those residing mainly in Beirut, as well as other cities across the country. 

At a time when a number of businesses were closing down, “From the Villages” was born from the COVID-19 lockdown in May. It all started through a fateful conversation between a few individuals who wanted to share good quality produce and foods from their southern, fertile village of Deir Mimas with others.

“Because people in their villages don’t find markets to sell (at), we thought why don’t we sell this food online?” the e-platform’s managing partner Hani Touma told Arab News. “By using technology and having a platform, they can sell their products and reach a wider range of customers.” 

The team designed their website and launched a couple of days later, with a few available items. Today, its offerings have expanded and clients can access a variety of 25 product categories, which include herbs, dairies, jams, olives, syrups, distillates, soaps and pottery. An eco-friendly project, all of the products are minimally packaged and locally made by nearly 50 artisans and farmers, living in 20 villages, mostly from the south.  

“We’re working with real household people,” said Touma. “Some of the ladies that we work with are 60, 70 years old and this is their only job. It started as a fun project and now it’s growing. We’re helping a lot of the suppliers and they’re having regular income, although it’s going up and down because of the economic situation in Lebanon.” 

Prior to the spread of COVID-19, Lebanon was already suffering from decades-long mismanagement and a financial crisis, in which citizens couldn’t access their bank savings, unemployment and inflation spiked and the Lebanese Lira devalued exponentially. 

In addition, Lebanon stands far from its full potential when it comes to local agricultural production as it imports more than 80 percent of its food items. The efforts of Touma, his business partner Sari Hawa, along with their tightly knit team of experts, are amongst the latest aiming to cultivate a culture of homegrown food concepts through grassroots initiatives.  

“Now, even the products imported have started to be missing from the supermarkets,” explained Touma. “I think this was why ‘From the Villages’ grew very fast, because people were not able to find some of their food – like jams, for example. They were all imported from outside. But now, you have a local product available directly at your doorstep.”

Following the deadly Beirut port explosion on Aug. 4, the “From the Villages” team suspended operations for a month and is currently slowly picking up again by carrying out deliveries twice per week. “Everything is working against us,” said Touma, “but we’re trying to stay on the ground and fix everything.”