In a spectacular evening that merged heritage with contemporary art, AlUla, the ancient region in northwest Saudi Arabia, hosted the Opera National de Paris for an exceptional event. The performance, held at AlUla’s Maraya performance hall, was a mesmerizing display of opera and ballet, featuring a stellar line-up of artists from the prestigious Academie de l’Opera National de Paris.
The audience was graced with the performances of Marianne Croux (soprano), Farrah El-Dibany (mezzo-soprano), Yu Shao (tenor), Vladimir Kapshuk (baritone), and pianist Benjamin Laurent. The event was further illuminated by the presence of the first Saudi soprano, Sawsan Albahiti, and etoile dancer Alice Renavand. In the enchanting setting of the Ashar Valley, the artists performed arias from classic operas like Jules Massenet’s “Manon,” Camille Saint-Saens’s “Samson et Dalila,” and Georges Bizet’s “Carmen,” culminating in the famous barcarolle from Jacques Offenbach’s “Les Contes d’Hoffmann.”
“A Night with the Opera National de Paris” not only showcased the artistic prowess of the performers but also underscored Villa Hegra's role in enriching AlUla’s cultural landscape. This event aligns with the intergovernmental agreement signed between Saudi Arabia and France in 2021, reinforcing the cultural bridge between the two nations. Villa Hegra, a Saudi-French institution dedicated to arts and culture, is envisioned as a space for creative dialogue between Saudi and international artists.
Feriel Fodil, the CEO of Villa Hegra, in an interview with Arab News en Francais, emphasized the event's significance in representing the ambitions of the Franco-Saudi partnership. Villa Hegra’s initiatives, including a music, song, and dance program led by artists from the Opera National de Paris in cooperation with AlUla's Music Hub, are testament to its commitment to fostering creative dialogue.
Designed by the renowned French architect firm Lacaton & Vassal, Villa Hegra is set to officially open in 2026. Ahead of its opening, a series of pre-opening programs are planned to energize the local and international arts scene. These include art retreats with Saudi and French artists, as well as conferences, podcasts, and workshops in collaboration with French institutions. The first pre-opening cycle is curated by a Saudi-French duo, Wejdan Reda and Arnaud Morand.
Upon its inauguration, Villa Hegra will feature up to 10 art and research programs, multidisciplinary facilities including exhibition spaces, studios, a language school, a research center, and auditoriums. The center’s inaugural art retreat, participated in by Saudi choreographer Sarah Brahim and French sculptor Ugo Schiavi, has already set the stage for future creative explorations.
Villa Hegra, through its unique positioning and programs, aims to be a melting pot of local and international cultures, fostering a convergence of diverse artistic expressions. This event with the Opera National de Paris marks just the beginning of AlUla’s journey as a burgeoning hub of global arts and culture.