Theatre Houses in Syria

The Opera House in Damascus and the State of Exception

This article examines the relationship between the Opera House in Damascus and Al-Assad dynasty. Hafez Al-Assad ordered the building of the Opera House but it remained unfinished till he died. His son Bashar opened it after three decades of construction. It is argued that leaving the institution unfinished was due to uncertainty regarding its identity, place in the bureaucratic hierarchy, and meaning in a totalitarian regime. Theatre institutions were driven to take oppositional positions against one another, and the Opera House intensified this model of enmity.

No theatre houses were built during the reign of Hafez Al-Assad, but theatre directorates increased with no space to host their productions. Syrian practices and discourses of identity prioritise the need to defeat the enemy that has no tangible trace in the Syrian life. These aspects intensified enmity among theatre makers and theatre institutions. The Opera House was a hope for many Syrians, but it played a role in dividing the Syrians too. It is concluded that the exceptional trait and the location of the Opera House have left many significances on the building and on its design as well as on its activities and that the Opera House, in relation to Al-Assad dynasty, has become one of the critical topics during the Syrian war.

Published at New Theatre Quarterly/ Ziad Adwan