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Puccini the envelope: Saudi Arabia to open its first opera house

Puccini the envelope: Saudi Arabia to open its first opera house
Don Giovanni is coming to Riyadh – or so one would hope after Saudi Arabia announced the construction of its first ever opera house in the latest in a series of liberalization moves by the crown prince.

READ MORE: Saudi Arabia to finally open first cinemas in early 2018

Chairman of the General Entertainment Authority Ahmed Al-Khatib made the announcement Thursday at the unveiling of the authority’s entertainment calendar in the Saudi capital. “Implementation has begun and we will continue until we achieve the highest standards in the world,” Al-Khatib said, adding that it plans to invest $64 billion in the entertainment sector in the next 10 years. Al-Khatib did not reveal if women will be able to attend the new theater once opened.

The band Maroon 5 and acrobatics show Cirque du Soleil are among the 5,000 liberal arts acts planned for this year alone, according the Al-Khatib.

There have been a number of steps to liberalize the kingdom’s ultra-conservative culture in recent times, including an easing of rules around separation of the sexes and a lifting of the infamous driving ban for women. Last month, women in the city of Jeddah were also allowed to attend a men’s football match for the first time.  

In December, it was announced the first movie theaters will open in 2018 – with cinemas having been banned since the 1980s. Announcing the move, Minister for Culture and Information Awwad bin Saleh Alawwad said he expected the theaters to open in March. The proposal to lift the ban has been condemned by powerful religious officials, who say that films can be “immoral, atheistic or rotten” and have the potential “to open doors to evil.”

READ MORE: Uber hiring female drivers in Saudi Arabia as it braces for lifting of ban

That ‘The Marriage of Figaro’ or the ‘Barber of Seville’ could soon be soaring through the rafters of a new Riyadh opera house is down to Saudi Arabia’s ‘Vision 2030’ project, the plan to diversify its economy and reduce its dependence on oil.

The liberalization project has seen women granted the right to start their own businesses without the approval of a male relative. Rules have also been relaxed about women walking in public without a male guardian present and females participating in sporting events. Earlier this month, the Shura Council, the advisory body to the monarchy, asked the country’s sports authority to help set up an independent agency for women’s sport.

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