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Cities of Salt take shape at Royal Opera House

Covent Garden's first opera by an Arab composer, co-produced by Brunel's Institute of Contemporary Middle-Eastern Composition (BICMEM), has been given an early airing to a sold-out audience at the Royal Opera House.

Cities of Salt tells the story of an unnamed country in the Arabian Gulf and the problems that ensue when oil is discovered.

The piece, by Syrian-born composer Zaid Jabri, is the result of a collaboration between BICMEM, the Royal Opera House and Shubbak, London's biennial festival of contemporary Arab arts and culture.

The libretto - by the distinguished writers and Columbia University Professors, Rosalind Morris and Yvette Christiansë - is based on the novel of the same name by Abdelrahman Munif, in Peter Theroux's translation.

The opera came to be written when Peter Wiegold and Oliver Butterworth, BICMEM's co-directors, introduced the librettists to Zaid Jabri.

Last week's concert performance in the Linbury Studio, with seven soloists, chorus and orchestra, featured scenes from each of the opera's three acts.

The performance was preceded by a talk, The Development of New Music and Opera by Arab Composers, chaired by Peter Wiegold, with the composer and librettists and the composers Bushra El Turk and Amr Okba, from the Lebanon and Egypt.