Opera in Azerbaijan
by Azer Rezayev
in Azerbaijan is
basically a 20th century phenomenon which has incorporated elements
of Azerbaijani traditional music. The first opera performances
in Baku were staged at the old Taghiyev Theater, a building that
once stood on the site where the new Musical Comedy Theater is
presently being constructed. The new theater should open this
The Azerbaijan State Theater of Opera and Ballet was built in 1910. The circumstances surrounding its construction add to its intrigue and romance. It seems an Italian diva came to Baku in 1909. Astonished to find that there was no proper opera house where she could perform, she refused to sing.
According to the story, "The Bygone Days" written by Manaf Suleymanov, now in his mid-80s, a certain oil baron by the name of Mailov fell in love with her and offered to build an opera house in Baku if she would return a year later.
But could such an ornate building be
completed in a single year? Oil baron and philanthropist Haji
Zeynalabdin Taghiyev who had constructed numerous buildings in
Baku had his doubts. And so he challenged Mailov, betting him
that it could not be done. If Mailov succeeded within the deadline,
Taghiyev promised to underwrite the costs of construction. Ten
months later, Taghiyev had to shell out the money. The opera
house was ready.
Civil engineer and architect N. G. Bayev, a graduate of the Institute of Civil Engineering in St. Petersburg designed the building along the lines of the Renaissance style architecture. The total costs for construction exceeded 250,000 rubles (approximately $30,000) an enormous sum of money for that period.
The Opera Theater which was so vital to musical culture in Baku mysteriously burned down in 1985. It's still not clear how the fire started. But the building had become such a central landmark for music and culture that officials decided to rebuild it. Three years later on January 3, 1988, the Opera Theater opened again. Today it stands as one of the most beautiful and majestic symbols of cultural life in Azerbaijan.
First Azeri Operas
Hajibeyov was the genius who
took the best of blending eastern traditional elements (melody,
mode and instruments) with western style and form, specifically
opera, which was followed later on by other composers who wrote
works of symphonic, ballet, concerto and chamber music.
After 1920, opera in Baku was spurred on by the staging of several of the Western classics by Verdi, Bizet, Puccini, Rossini, Glinka, Tchaikovsky and Mussorgsky.
Gliere, an eminent Russian composer came to Baku because of his fascination with folk songs of the Caucasus. He incorporated many Azerbaijani melodies into his opera "Shah Sanam" (1934) in which Shovkat Mammadova and Bul-bul performed the leading roles.
Koroglu was based on Azeri folk music but it incorporated arias, recitatives, ensembles, a large chorus and dances. Folk instruments, such as the tar (a stringed instrument) and zurna (a wind instrument) were also written into the score along with western symphonic instruments. The scenes are dramatic. Even a horse-Koroglu's, of course-appears on stage.
Koroglu is based on an Azerbaijani folk legend. The hero overthrows the khan who has been exploiting the people. The plot is based on an Azeri folk legend but perfectly suited the Soviet propaganda machine of the time. The music score is extraordinary and hailed as Hajibeyov's masterpiece.
But in Azerbaijan, there are three troupes. One troupe is comprised of mugam where the soloists are mugam performers who sing in the Azeri language. The second troupe consists of the soloists who perform the classic operas of Azerbaijani composers in the Azeri language. The third troupe, known as the Russian troupe, consists of soloists who perform European classic operas, as well as operas by Russian composers. During the Soviet period, most of the European classics were translated into Russian; so, many of these operas are traditionally performed in Russian instead of the original languages in which the operas were written-German, French and Italian. In addition to these three troupes, Azerbaijan has one single chorus and an orchestra that go to make up the Azerbaijan opera collective.
The Azerbaijan Opera and Ballet Theater troupe often toured throughout the former Soviet Union. In 1941, they performed in Iran and later went on to make appearances in France, Morocco and various Asian countries.
Major Operas by Azerbaijani
* music comedy operetta
Azer Rezayev, "People's Artist," composer and professor, teaches at the Academy of Music. He also is the Founding Director (1996) of the newly established and magnificent Children's Philharmonic Orchestra of the Bul Bul School.
Fuad Akhundov, history enthusiast,
also contributed to this article.