How A Phone Call Can Change an Armenian National Institution

Magic Flute
Magic Flute cast: Julietta Aleksanyan-Pamina, Alina Pahlevanyan-Papagena, Constantine Orbelian-General and Artistic Director of the Armenian National Opera, Hasmik Torosyan-Queen of the Night and Liparit Avetisyan

Magic Flute cast: Julietta Aleksanyan as Pamina, Alina Pahlevanyan as Papagena, Constantine Orbelian, General and Artistic Director of the Armenian National Opera, Hasmik Torosyan in the role of Queen of the Night and Liparit Avetisyan as Ta

BY NATALIE TEPERDJIAN

In 2016, when Constantine Orbelian received the call from Armenia asking him to become Artistic Director of the Yerevan Opera House, no one could have imagined what epic changes were on the horizon. Two years on and under the guidance of Maestro Orbelian, this landmark institution has begun to write a new chapter in its history and embarked on its first international tour in 25 years.

For 85 years the Armenian National Opera and Orchestra has played an iconic role in the Armenian narrative. Historically significant opera, ballet, orchestral, dance and other creative performances have been brought to life, and its building in the heart of Yerevan serves as the epicentre of the city’s vibrant street and even political culture. But despite all this, in the last 17 years the Opera has only produced 8 new opera productions, 4 of which never made it far beyond the opening night. Financial constraints, lack of support and political unrest all contributed to this dearth of productivity. But the arrival of Maestro Orbelian has started to change all this.

In his brief time with the Opera, Orbelian, an internationally acclaimed pianist and conductor, has injected new life into the Opera. “I came here to support a national treasure,” said Orbelian. “We have so much untapped potential within the Opera and across Armenia. Before the end of the year we will have 6 new opera and ballet productions on stage, more than was launched in the last 17 years combined.”

This new vitality has already manifested significant results with the Opera embarking on its first international tour in almost 25 years. Masterfully bringing to life Bizet’s Carmen and Mozart’s The Magic Flute to packed audiences at the beautiful and acoustically excellent Dubai Opera House in the UAE who were witnessing the first ever performance of either in the country. Two hundred performers, Tech crew, a costume team, full orchestra, Opera chorus, children’s chorus, conductor and directors travelled from Yerevan to Dubai. Later this month the Opera will continue its international tour when they open the new Kuwait Opera House located on the compounds of The Sheikh Jaber Al-Ahmad Cultural Center with the new production of the Magic Flute and orchestral selections marking a significant first for both the Opera and Kuwait. The Sheikh Jaber Al-Ahmad Cultural Center, informally known as the Kuwait Opera House, is a prominent cultural center in Kuwait, located on the Gulf Road in the capital Kuwait City. It is the largest cultural center and opera house in the Middle East.

“We are over joyed to be part of these firsts for the UAE and Kuwait,” said Orbelian. “Our invitations to perform in both countries are a true testament to the artistry of the Opera company and marks the important relationships between these countries and Armenia as a whole as they share our vision for the importance of a thriving arts community.”

All this innovation, however, belies the Opera’s minute budget, and its rehearsing and performing in a building that is a visual icon for the city, but needs much repair and work inside. Every great city has a thriving Opera House. From Sydney to Moscow, from Milan to New York a rich tapestry of historically significant and modern musical journeys come alive on the stages of these opera houses. Bringing culture and vibrancy to audiences. Each thrives in large part due to their team of business leaders and supporters who financially back the arts and understand the significance of a thriving arts community for a truly modern nation, which Armenia is still lacking.

Orbelian’s vision for the Opera is infectious, captivating all those who have an audience with this creative giant. He has plans for everything from developing an updated production of the Anush opera to developing an archive library to preserve Armenia’s rich performing arts history. But it is clear that Orbelian cannot continue indefinitely to carry the full weight of the Opera’s journey forward on his own. It’s rare that such perfect moments arise where a historically significant national arts institute is poised at the edge of major change and opportunities exist to play a role.

But that’s exactly where the Armenian National Opera is today. While the curtains will soon close on its first successful international performances in the UAE and Kuwait what comes after is yet to be seen. Whatever the future holds, however, the story is waiting to be enriched by people around the world ready to foster the physical space and human talent pool to ensure Armenia is firmly on the map with the world’s greatest arts centres.

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4 Comments

  1. Norin said:

    I think what’s needed is for Armenia and Armenians to produce less singers, dancers, musicians, and clowns and start producing more soldiers, warriors, heroes, and patriots. Singing opera and dancing Kochari are not going to help us resolve our national issues, we need to find our warrior Melik roots again and let go if our minstrel merchant mentality if we are to achieve national aspirations for our landlocked predator surrounded nation.

    • sona hamalian said:

      I am amazed at the lack of knowledge people have. In the middle of WW 2, there was a complete and total mobilization of the men in the USSR under the age of 50. The People’s Commissar of Culture, Lunacharasky came to Stalin and convinced him that destroying the cultural institutions in the country can be done overnight by drafting all of the musicians (Conservatory professors, orchestra musicians, soloists, opera singers, dancers etc….) but, what will the country do AFTER the war is over… wait 20 years for a new crop of musicians to come up to staff the symphony orchestras and opera houses? So, Stalin sent the Moscow Conservatory to Tashkent and the Bolshoi to Almaty and the Leningrad Conservatory and Ballet school and all of the major cultural institutions in the western part of Russia to Siberia to continue their work. At the end of the war, everyone returned and continued performances at the Bolshoi and Mariinsky Theaters as if nothing ever happened.
      Talk about long-term planning…
      Unfortunately, this kind of ignorance filters down to the masses…

  2. Hagop Varoujian said:

    Norin, as much as I appreciate your point of view, I disagree with your approach to solving our national security problems. The simple fact being that if we’re realistic, without the full backing of the US or the very unlikely support of Russia, as much as we would like to believe it, we cannot win the war against the azeris. Just remember they and our centuries old foe turkey are one and the same! So, our only chance, in my opinion is to help our country get stronger economically and politically. Let’s encourage repatriation. And why not, let’s have a strong army, equipped with state of the art weaponry, in order to be able to defend our borders.

    • Artin said:

      Agreed. The only thing I am jealous of jews, is their unfettered loyal to Israel. They spend all their money for Israeli causes, they dedicate their time and money and are one voice, ALL in support of Israel. Armenians should do EVERY single thing possible for the motherland. That means producing more children, spending more of our money, lobbying for Armenia, pushing more Armenia related issues into the spotlight (the diaspora seems to only push genocide recognition), and invest heavily in Armenia. Armenia will NEVER be able to win war against Turkey. The truth is not pleasant but Armenia NEEDS Russia simply to exist and we should be happy that for all its cons, we still have a bit of Russia support. We NEED to make the Russians realize how crucial Armenia is to their nation and we MUST create a truly independent Armenia (without losing Russian support) that is heavily support by Armenians from both the Diaspora and within. We need a militarily strong Armenia but also a financially strong Armenia with a population that is strongly nationalistic. We need to change our attitude regarding Armenia and other Armenians. I do not know why, but many Armenians are in a sense, self-hating, and I dont understand this. We are a beautiful people, peace loving and with a rich and ancient culture that the majority of the world, unlike the turks and azeris, respects. We MUST do what the jews do, we must do EVERYTHING we can (both as individuals and as a people) to create a permanent state of Armenia that is both strong and independent in every possible way!

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