Aside from the 3,000-strong audience inside Al Wasl Plaza, millions across the globe tuned in to virtually view the eagerly awaited event. With the golden ring of connectivity – the inspiration for the Expo 2020 Dubai logo – raised to the trellis of the magnificent Al Wasl Plaza, the beating heart of the Expo site and the spectacular setting for the captivating ceremony, the most inclusive World Expo ever was officially underway.
In addition to music from some of the most influential artists on the planet and a beautiful live orchestra, a sensory overload of powerful visuals was beamed across Al Wasl Plaza’s dome, the world’s largest 360-degree projection screen. More than 3,000 lighting fixtures, 1,000 speakers, 1,300 costumes and buckets of passion and emotion from every one of the 1,000-plus participating performers and volunteers also contributed to a one-of-a-kind spectacle of masterful artistic collaboration.
His Excellency Sheikh Nahayan Mabarak Al Nahayan, UAE Minister of Tolerance and Coexistence and Commissioner General of Expo 2020 Dubai, welcomed the world to Expo 2020 Dubai – and to the UAE – in his speech, saying: “Expo 2020 Dubai will provide a significant platform for all people to connect, discuss and work together. Together, we will convey, from the UAE to the world, on our 50th anniversary, a message of tolerance, coexistence and peace; a message of progress, prosperity and growth; a message of brotherhood, happiness and an unwavering will to create a brighter future for everyone.”
Dimitri S. Kerkentzes, Secretary General, Bureau International des Expositions (BIE), said: “All the world is coming together, for the first time since the pandemic began, to connect, to exchange and to learn on this extraordinary global stage. The time has now come to open Expo 2020 Dubai, an Expo that marks the era, that plays a defining role in the global recovery, and that contributes to a better future.”
The flags of Expo’s 192 participating nations, revealed via a domino effect as flags were opened one by one, was a proud and visually stunning moment that also signified a reawakening of the world.
It was celebrated tenor Andrea Bocelli who brought the house down, rounding off the night’s electrifying proceedings with one of his all-time classics, The Prayer, its lyrics of human connection crescendoing into the grand finale.
With more than 80 million albums under his belt, classical music's biggest-selling living artist said that performing at Expo 2020 was a “great honour” and that his presence at Al Wasl “reflects all of the affection my audience has been giving me for many years and I hope to give it back”.
Andrea Bocelli said: “We have all gone through a year that no one could ever have imagined. For a year, we have lost the essentials, our freedom in and, in a sense, and even our dignity. Now we finally see the light and I hope that this event will also help to instil in everyone a sense of optimism, a desire to achieve and to put what has been behind us.”
Before that, chart-topping British vocalist Ellie Goulding belted out a resounding, uplifting version of Anything Can Happen; Andra Day enraptured the audience with Rise Up; Chinese concert pianist Lang Lang wowed with his wizardry; and four-time Grammy winning singer-songwriter Angelique Kidjo, together with renowned Saudi singer Mohammed Abdu, sang John Legend’s powerful If You’re Out There?, with its moving lyrics imploring the world to join together.
Other highlights included the official Expo song, This Is Our Time, sung by Arab artists Hussain Al Jassmi, Almas and Mayssa Karaa, while Emirati singing sensation Ahlam Alshamsi completed the formidable regional line-up. The artistic prowess of Oscar-winning composer A.R. Rahman’s all-women ensemble, the Firdaus Orchestra, comprising 50 musicians from across the Arab world, also proved a pivotal part of the ceremony’s inspiring journey.
Scott Givens, Executive Producer, Expo 2020 Opening Ceremony, who co-curated and co-produced the show with Franco Dragone, Artistic Director, said: “We picked artists that had songs that belonged in the ceremony and that tied in with Expo’s themes.
“Of course, we wanted to represent the world, we wanted to be plural and we wanted to reflect the diversity of our planet. I'm very proud of the combination of talent that we've brought together to do this and the way they've executed the story.”
A feeling of warmth, respect, togetherness and camaraderie was palpable throughout the celebration, which also demonstrated that the world is primed and ready to re-embrace live events. The stage is now set for Expo 2020 Dubai to host the biggest cultural gathering in the world, presenting a visually striking and emotionally inspiring 182 days, as more than 200 participants – including nations, multilateral organisations, businesses, and educational institutions, as well as millions of visitors – create the largest and most diverse World Expo ever.