UK Premiere of a Middle Eastern Masterpiece at Arcola’s Grimeborn Festival

"Gariné" is considered the masterwork of Dikran Tchoukhajian, the first opera composer of the Ottoman Empire

LONDON—Arcola Theatre will stage the UK premiere of Gariné by Dikran Tchoukhajian, in a new adaptation by acclaimed French director Gerald Papasian. The work, which fuses European and Eastern traditions in Tchoukhajian’s pioneering style, was a major influence in the development Armenian opera. Since its composition in Turkish as Leblebici Horhor Ağa (Master Hor Hor the Chickpea Vendor) in 1875, it has been adapted three times for film, including by Nazim Hikmet.

Now Gerald Papasian directs a semi-staging of his own adaptation. Following performances at the Theatre of Saint-Maur, Paris and the Theatre de L’Odeon, Marseille, Gariné will play at Arcola for two nights only on 14 and 15 August.

Tchouhadjian was known in his lifetime as ‘the Armenian Verdi’ and ‘the Oriental Offenbach’.

Gerald Papasian said, “I want the world to hear his music. His name being almost forgotten and he remains unknown to the westerners. Yet when it’s heard, people love it and are surprised that no one had heard him before. That’s why I am thrilled at the opportunity Mehmet Ergen and the Arcola Theatre is giving me to introduce this music to London theatregoers. It is also the best way to show that art is indeed universal and the introduction of an Armenian Composer made possible to British theatregoers by a theatre director who is of Turkish background makes eminent sense to me.”

On its 140th anniversary of “Master Hor Hor the Chickpea Vendor”, Papasian is dedicating this production to three courageous artists who dared to break taboos of their era: Arousyak Papazian (1841-1907), an Ottoman Armenian actress considered the first professional female actor in the Ottoman Empire and thereby the entire Middle East; Şazik Köylüyan (1854-1895), the first Armenian professional opera singer and the first to play Gariné in 1875; and Afife Jale (1902 – 1941), the first Muslim theatre actress in Turkey.

The production plays as part of Arcola’s ninth Grimeborn opera festival. Since it launched in 2007, the Grimeborn festival has introduced new audiences to opera and given emerging artists the platform to showcase and develop their talent.

Remarking on the 2015 line-up, which includes a dozen productions, Arcola Artistic Director Mehmet Ergen said: “For the ninth year running, the Grimeborn festival will showcase work from some of our most exciting opera artists, in an accessible way and at an affordable price. Classics by Puccini, Verdi and Strauss will be reimagined; little-known masterpieces like Tchouhadjian’s Gariné will receive rare productions; new and contemporary works will demonstrate the ongoing vibrancy of opera within our culture.”


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