Against the backdrop of rock-cut tombs and sand-swept ruins, Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli regaled revelers on Thursday in the ancient Saudi Arabian desert city of AlUla at the center of the kingdom’s tourism push.
Bocelli performed alongside his family members at UNESCO World Heritage site Hegra in the kingdom’s AlUla, a long-isolated area seen widely as an open-air museum.
Saudi Arabia has splurged billions to develop sites like it in an attempt to build a tourism industry from scratch, as part of efforts to diversify its oil-reliant economy.
Bocelli, who has performed in the kingdom at least twice before, was the “first artist in known history to stage a concert within the city walls of Hegra”, organizers of the televised event said.
The singer belted out Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” in a duet with his young daughter Virginia to an audience that organizers said was limited to less than 300, due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The centuries-old AlUla, an area roughly the size of Belgium where Nabatean tombs and art are chiseled into caramel-hued rock, is seen as the centerpiece of Saudi tourism attractions.
The Kingdom began issuing tourist visas for the first time in 2019.
Saudi Arabia has invited international musicians – from Janet Jackson to 50 Cent and Korean pop group BTS – for concerts that were unimaginable in the country just four years ago, loosening decades-old restrictions on entertainment.
But the pandemic has put a brake on the country’s ambitious push to revamp its global image and draw tourists.
Saudi Arabia has reported more than 395,000 coronavirus infections and 6,700 deaths from Covid-19.