Congratulations to CGT member, Rosalind Morris in her performances in Cities of Salt this summer!

Opera Essentials – Cities of Salt

by Rachel Beaumont

Royal Opera House

The Story Begins…

In the 1930s in an unnamed country of the Arabian Gulf, there is a small, isolated oasis called Wadi al-Uyoun, where life has gone on unchanged for centuries. Oil is discovered and husband and wife Miteb and Wadha see the discovery unleash a cataclysmic transformation on their Bedouin community.

A Masterpiece of Arabic Literature

Cities of Salt is based on the 1984 novel of the same name by the Jordanian novelistAbdelrahman Munif. Munif’s novel was translated into English by Peter Theroux in 1988 and was described by Edward Said as the ‘only serious work of fiction that tries to show the effect of oil, Americans and local oligarchy on a Gulf country’. Munif explained to Tariq Ali that ‘Cities of salt means cities that offer no sustainable existence. When the waters come in, the first waves will dissolve the salt and reduce these great glass cities to dust.’

‘History that Belongs to Us All’

Award-winning Syrian composer Zaid Jabri and his librettists Yvette Christansë andRosalind Morris were drawn towards Munif’s masterpiece for the way it humanizes epic subjects of geopolitical conflict and environmental destruction, depicting the impact of these global events on individuals. They also see the contemporary relevance of the events among communities such as Wadi al-Uyoun – the Bedouin people bear the immediate cost, but theirs is a ‘history that belongs to us all’.

Different Traditions

Jabri was born in Damascus and studied at the Kraków Academy of Music. His works have been commissioned and performed by ensembles around the world. For Cities of Salt, Jabri incorporates into his musical language a variety of musical traditions from the Middle East – including the use of microtones – to create a vivid sense of place. In this concert performance, four scenes and one orchestral intermezzo from the three-act opera will be performed, in reduced orchestration. Narrator Nadim Sawalha will read introductions to the four scenes, written by the librettists.

Shubbak and the Brunel Institute for Contemporary Middle-Eastern Music

Cities of Salt is a co-production between The Royal Opera, the Shubbak Festival and theBrunel Institute for Contemporary Middle-Eastern Music. Shubbak is the UK’s premier festival of contemporary Arab culture, and this year runs 11–26 July presenting outstanding international Arab artists to London audiences and communities. The Brunel Institute was inaugurated in 2011 and is the first institution of its kind in the world, supporting composers from across the Middle East and providing a research centre for scholars. Both institutions are supported by the Arab Fund for Arts and Culture.

Cities of Salt