Azerbaijan International

Winter 1998 (6.4)

Architecture of the Oil Baron Period
Opera and Ballet Theater

Nizami 95

Baku Oil Barons - Opera HouseThe circumstances surrounding the construction of the Opera House in 1910-1911 add to its intrigue and romance. It seems an Italian opera singer visited Baku in 1909. Surprised that there was no Opera House, she refused to perform.

The Opera and Ballet Theater after reconstruction. The original theater was built in 1910.

According to the book, "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
Taghiyev, who had constructed numerous buildings in Baku, had his doubts. And he challenged Mailov, betting him that it could not be done. If Mailov succeeded, Taghiyev promised to underwrite the costs of construction. Ten months later the opera house was ready. But it's not clear whether Taghiyev ever made good on his promise or whether, indeed, the charming Italian vocalist ever returned to Baku. Nevertheless, the Opera House stands and is central to much of the musical activity in the city these days especially now that the Philharmonic is under construction.

The music hall is lavishly decorated with ornate chandeliers. It has three tiers of seats including a Presidential box. The total costs for construction exceeded 250,000 rubles (approximately $30,000), an enormous sum of money in those days.

In 1985, the building caught fire under suspicious circumstances and was severely damaged. As the Opera and Ballet Theater was such a focal point for the musical life of the city, the decision was made to restore it. and thus restoration was made in 1987-1988.

Azerbaijan International (6.4) Winter 1998.
© Azerbaijan International 1998. All rights reserved.

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