‘My Beautiful Camel’ is a NEW one-hour chamber opera by Joanna Marsh and librettist David Pountney. Inspired by Joanna’s experience of living in Dubai, the opera sets a series of conceivable circumstances on a collision course, leading to catastrophic result
Setting: The Burj Khalifa, Dubai
Plot: A failing event company secures a last-minute contract to mount a fashion show and hires a beauty-pageant consultant to organise everything. At the venue, an unusual smell reveals the confusion, but despite the absurdity of camels in couture, the consultant is honoured for his vision and some Saudi dignitaries offer to rescue the ailing business, only to find that its female employees have already staged a management buyout.
Languages: English and Arabic
Casting: 11 soloists
Ensemble: 9 musicians
Duration: 53 minutes
In his Dubai office in the Burj Khalifa Ivan, a shady Russian event manager, is handed a last-ditch opportunity to save his bankrupt company: a lucrative contract to run Dubai Fashion Week. True to type, he delegates the project to his three assistants who he calls “The Joys” since he can’t be bothered with their real names. They quickly find a consultant who they’ve heard helped organise a “Beauty Contest” in Abu Dhabi, not realizing that this was a beauty contest for camels. And the man they have hired is not an event consultant, but Deepak, the lowly Indian secretary of the Camel Racing Club. Deepak however is savvy and has an eye for an opportunity. His brother in Bangalore has a large sweatshop that could do with some extra orders, so he eagerly jumps in. He navigates through the politics of international couture, represented by the high-end fashionistas Karl and Carla, the imperious Saudis and the vodka fueled idiosyncrasies of Ivan’s event company. In the midst of all the ensuing misunderstandings no-one notices that all along he has been planning an event with camels rather than catwalk models.
It is only on the day itself, that the truth finally dawns, heralded by a peculiar “piss and dung” smell, by which time it is too late to change tack. But somehow an extraordinary parade of camels wearing ludicrous outfits wins the day. In the post event televised wrap-up, all parties are still wondering whether they might be in deep trouble so happily credit Deepak with entire responsibility for the event and distance themselves. They are confounded when he is accordingly awarded the highest honour from “Visit Dubai” for his vision and enterprise. At the very end, a last glimmer of hope is offered to Ivan when the Saudis offer to buy his company, but it turns out that the deceptively naïve Joys have in fact staged a management buyout. Deepak will be their new CEO, and meanwhile “pissanddung.com” is an internet sensation.
Ashraf Sewailam as Abdulla
Clare Presland as Clara
• Ivan Kalashnikoff, chief executive (Bass-baritone)
• Joy 1, marketing assisant (Soprano)
• Joy 2, marketing assisant (Mezzo-soprano)
• Joy 3, marketing assisant (Contralto)
• Abdulla, camel racing club owner (Bass)
• Deepak, club assistant (Tenor)
• Carla, fashionista (Mezzo-soprano)
• Karl, fashionista (Tenor)
• Abdul 1, Saudi VIP (Bass)
• Abdul 2, Saudi VIP (Counter-tenor)
• Fatima, tourist board officer (Mezzo-soprano)
Clarinet in E flat, alto saxophone, baritone saxophone, trumpet, trombone, percussion (timpani, vibraphone, drum
kit, tam-tam, glockenspiel, triangle, bongos), piano, viola, double bass
As a British composer living in Dubai since 2007 I have been keen to see Western classical music become a more
highly valued part of the Middle East arts scene and to create meaningful connections with the region in my
compositional work. This approach has led to some unique opportunities, from writing an orchestral work to
celebrate the building of the Burj Khalifa, music for HM The Queen’s visit to Abu Dhabi in 2010; to ‘Flare’, a Dubai
Opera commission for the first BBC Proms Dubai based on ‘Oil Field’, a short story by Saudi writer Mohammed
‘My Beautiful Camel’ was born of a desire to create an opera genuinely from Dubai, with a story revolving around
known elements from the UAE and written specifically to connect with the local population who were not largely
opera goers. I therefore sought out subject matter that felt relevant to the widest body of Emiratis. Realising that
it would be helpful if the opera was a comedy, I was drawn by the possible complications arising from local interest
in the international fashion industry and its love of beauty pageants for camels. I then came up with the idea of a
event that goes spectacularly wrong when an event company tasked to put on an international fashion show
accidentally puts on a camel fashion parade instead. I know first-hand how easy it is for misunderstandings to
arise in this part of the world. Events regularly teeter on the edge of catastrophe for more than a fleeting moment.
Dubai is also a place that doesn’t particularly heed the time frames required to deliver leading international quality
events. ‘It will be tomorrow’, is a statement we all dread. So this idea has roots in an all-too-plausible reality.
David Pountney created the libretto from my story and brought structural definition and characterisation to the
tale. He introduced some great elements: the two preening ‘Fashionistas’ one of whom is styled as Karl Lagerfeld;
a trio, the Joys, who always sing in the style of the Andrews sisters; and the two Saudi Abduls, the second who
always repeats the words of the first (low bass followed by squeaky alto). David’s ideas gave me lots of room for
musical manoeuvre and creativity.
The musical line-up of nine instrumentalists was determined by a need to create two key ensemble sonorities,
that of a small big-band and that of a pseudo-Arabic chamber ensemble. The Arabic band is not required to play
quarter-tones but does reproduce some of the dance material one finds in Gulf music at various moments.
I wrote the first part of ‘My Beautiful Camel’ in 2016, and it was presented in a workshop with the National Opera
Studio in 2017, after which I made significant revisions and went on to work on the second part. Plans to present a
more developed version of the opera in New York were curtailed by the Coronavirus pandemic, whereupon I
decided to use the hiatus in the performing arts world to create a trailer for the piece, in the hope of raising
interest both in the Middle East and further afield. As part of this process, I began collaborating with conductor
Gerry Cornelius and director John La Bouchardière on developing the opera for production.
Libretto and vocal score available for perusal on request. Please use our contact form.
For specific enquires, please contact Liz Webb Production and Management.