Led Zeppelin, Graham Nash, the Beatles, Rolling Stones, and Nick Drake (who drove there in a Ford Cortina) are among the rock musicians who have visited Marrakech. But the connections between the Moroccan city and Western art music are more tenuous. In 1986 work started on the Theatre Royal, an ambitious project designed to give Marrakech a world class venue for opera and theatre. My header photo, taken a few days ago, shows the impressive exterior of the new Theatre Royal with the fly tower in the background. Website travel-in-morocco.com explains:
The Marrakech Theatre Royal on Avenue de France is a marvel of architecture, with a 1200-seat open-air theatre and an 800-seat opera house. Inaugurated on 19 September 2001, the Theatre Royal is a creation sure to enhance the red city’s reputation as mediator and focal point for intellectuals the world over. It also constitutes a cultural and artistic centre in the heart of the Pearl of Southern Morocco, with shows, receptions, concerts and exhibitions being held there throughout the year.All of which made me very keen to sample the prestigious new opera house. But, as with a previous visit two years ago, there did not seem to be any scheduled performances. So instead I managed to gain access behind the facade of the cultural and artistic centre to see the new performing spaces. These are configured as the two circles of a figure of eight with a shared movable stage linking them at the narrow point of the figure. Below is a photo of the 1200 seat open air theatre looking towards the stage area, behind which is the 800 seat opera house.
The open air theatre is clearly in use for performances. But walk through the curtains and it is a different story. Below is a photo I grabbed of the interior of the opera house which twenty-four years after construction started remains an empty concrete shell. There was no sign at all of building activity, which makes the assurances I was given that work would be completed in 2011 seem somewhat optimistic.
Is it just a case of Marrakech-not-so-express, or is the Arab world's love affair with Western art music over before it really started? Support for the latter view comes from reports that the land designated for Dubai's prestigous new opera house has been sold off and used as a car park. All of which simply confirms that in classical music there is no such thing as a free lunch.
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