In a major artistic premiere, a new opera from esteemed Emirati-American composer Mohammed Fairouz, will be taking place in Amsterdam on Friday.
“By any measure – size, scope and significance – The New Prince is one of the biggest productions to have its premiere this international opera season," an article in The National said, describing the event.
But for us, artists in the UAE, this has added significance. To say that the The New Prince is an enormous leap forward would be an understatement.
Fairouz, through this opera is quite literally, blazing the trails that a new generation of Emirati artists will certainly appreciate. Though this is not a far departure from where the UAE stands in the arts and culture sphere.
Whether it is bringing the Louvre to Abu Dubai, the exceptional programming of DubaiOpera or ADMAF, celebrating artistic diversity at Dubai Design Days, the well-curated exhibited art of the Sharjah Art Foundation, or creating a home for performing arts at NYU Abu Dhabi – there is no question that the UAE has become an important center for arts and culture.
In February of 2017, Opera News said of Fairouz: “As always, his broad array of international influences gives him a musical palette that can transcend boundaries of genre and nationality to express deep and universal yearnings.” And it truly does.
The New Prince, bearing this in mind, will not disappoint musically. However, through the opera, aside from its musical genius, Fairouz is demonstrating pioneering artistic leadership and creating an artistic legacy, one that will give emerging and future artists something to hang our hopes on and create an uplifting path that will advance Emirati arts.
Of all the roads that artists travel, few are more daunting than the road of no inspiration. It is a lonely, depressing, and deeply unnerving path that usually leads to an unsettling place of self-doubt. It is the place where artistic capabilities are questioned and life choices are scrutinized.
We in the UAE, however, are lucky to have always had something to look backward to with pride, just as we are constantly looking forward with hope. Because of the young age of our country, we are fortunate, at our best, to be a generation of pioneers just as our parents before us were a generation of pioneers.
Each of our parents was a “first” in something or another. I myself am emerging as opening up a newline of Emirati spoken word poetry. We have stood on the shoulders of titans like Hassan Shariff and poets like Ousha bint Khalifa Al Suwaidi.
But Fairouz is illuminating a new path, one on the international scene of the performing arts, that represents a vital new accomplishment for our young country. In the wider scope of things, his opera carves out a space for a whole new generation to create artistic work.
It is precisely because of this that The New Prince brings with it, not only artistic merit, but a deep sense of optimism. This makes the journey of the artist easier and removes obstacles that would otherwise hinder and harm. The optimism that, with each day becomes more necessary, in a word filled with negative narratives playing like constant background noise.
We are all part of the global story and there is not a more powerful way to speak this story than through art. And our story has never been more vital. We children of the Gulf have always been an intermediate civilization. Our identity has bridged together religions and cultures; languages and expressions.
In our tightly knit global reality, the lessons that we have to add to the global story might be more vitally needed on the international stage than ever. In Act 4 of his opera, Fairouz breathes theatrical life into one of our recently departed elders, Prince Saud Al Faisal. As the prince faces down a world in flames punctuated by tribalist calls for war, blood, the separation or clashing of cultures, he intones words that he spoke over a decade ago in Rabat.
Fairouz lifts these words into the embrace of his music:
There can never be
A clash of cultures
It is a contradiction in terms.
Civilizations are not competing
Products in some marketplace
But rather the collective effort
Of human genius
Built on contributions
From all our cultures.
So, no, human genius cannot be claimed
By any single nation or creed.
So I believe.
When Prince Saud passed away, Fairouz wrote a moving eulogy which ended with the following statement:
“The tectonics of the world have shifted… the world at large will no longer be able to seek counsel from a wise man of the Arab World. As for the Arabs, we will bury an elder today.”
Through the eternal work of art, Fairouz has ensured that the intellect of higher genius that drove Prince Saud is one element that, embodied eternally in the score of this opera, will never die.
Through the breath and movement of the theatrical stage, the Prince is reanimated into renewed life. His ideas (our story) are lifted by Fairouz into song.
The present generation of Emirati artists admire Fairouz because he tells our story so skillfully. The New Prince marks a major milestone in our national artistic journey. It will also inspire young Emirati artists to begin charting their own journeys.
I am optimistic for our collective future as artists. It makes me believe that I can become the artist I know I can be. Above all, it solidifies my belief that, as we know about the UAE, all things are possible.