Summer 2000 (8.2)
and Ballet Theater
Above: Interior of Baku's
Opera and Ballet Theater. Courtesy: UNDP
When a famous Italian opera singer visited Baku in 1909, she
was shocked to learn that Baku had no opera house. And so the
diva refused to sing at all, anywhere. To her good fortune, an
oil baron named Mailov fell in love with her and promised to
build her an opera house if she would only return to Baku the
Above: Opera and Ballet Theater
after its reconstruction in the late 1980s. Photo: Khanlou
Another oil baron, Haji Zeynalabdin Taghiyev, who was experienced
in organizing major construction projects, scoffed at Mailov's
naivete to think an opera house could be built in such a short
time. He challenged Mailov, betting that the building could not
be completed within the year. So convinced he was of his opinion
that he promised to underwrite the costs for its construction
if the deadline was met.
than a year later, the building was finished and Taghiyev had
to fork over about $30,000 - an enormous sum of money in those
days. At least that's the version of the story that Manaf Suleymanov
heard and recorded in his book, "The Bygone Days."
And so today Baku has its Opera House, though the name of the
persistent Italian diva seems to have faded into oblivion. No
one mentions whether she really did return the following year
Left: Performance of the
opera Vagif by Mustafayev based on a play written by Samad Vurghun.
The Azerbaijan State Theater of Opera and Ballet, designed by
architect N. G. Bayev, is one of the most ornate music halls
in Baku. It remained open until 1983, when it was closed for
renovation. By 1985 the building was ready for use again, but
burned down under mysterious circumstances. The building was
restored once again and reopened on January 3, 1988.
Opera and Ballet
When Azerbaijan gained its independence in 1991, all the performing
arts were soon feeling financially strapped because the government
could no longer carry the weight of expenses as it had during
the Soviet period. So in 1997, several international companies
established the Opera House Trust Fund in order to support the
Opera and Ballet Theater. This effort, initiated by U.N. Representative
in Azerbaijan Paolo Lembo, included Founding Members: Agip, Amoco,
Arco, HSBC (British Bank), Mobil, Shell, Texaco, Pennzoil and
The Opera House Trust Fund has already facilitated the renovation
of the ballet stage flooring where rehearsals are conducted.
It also has sponsored preparations for performances of "Sevil"
by Fikrat Amirov and "Maiden's Tower" by Afrasiyab
Babalbeyli. Funds also have been allocated to create new set
designs, costumes and even to buy new strings for some of the
instruments in the orchestra.
This summer, a group of performers from the Theater will travel
to Turkey to participate in the International Festival of Theater
Ballet Arts. There they will perform the "Maiden's Tower"
ballet, the first ballet ever produced in Azerbaijan (1940).
(For more information on the rewriting and restaging of the "Maiden's Tower" ballet, see AI 7.4, Winter 1999,
page 54.) The ballet group has also performed "Arabian Nights"
by Fikrat Amirov in Jordan (1990) and "Seven Beauties"
in Germany (1992).
Left: Floor Plan of Opera
and Ballet Theater by Shamil Fatullayev
A performance at the Opera and Ballet Theater is something that
any visitor to Baku should not lose the chance to see. Where
else in the world can you see a high-quality opera or ballet
for less than $5?
Recent opera and ballet performances in Baku have included Bizet's
"Carmen" (May 13); the opera "Ashig Garib"
by Zulfugar Hajibeyov (May 14); Tchaikovsky's "Swan Lake"
ballet (May 20) and the opera "Leyli and Majnun" by
Uzeyir Hajibeyov (May 21). The ballet "Black and White",
written by People's Actor of Azerbaijan Khayyam Mirzazade, will
premiere at the Theater this June.
Later this year, the Theater will stage the ballet "Don
Quixote", directed by Georgiy Kovtun, famous Russian ballet
master. Gara Garayev's "Leyli and Majnun" ballet is
scheduled to be performed as well, under the direction of famous
Russian choreographer Mikhail Lavrovski.
Address: 28th of May St. 8 (formerly Telegraph St.)
Admission: 10,000 to 60,000 manats ($2.50 - $15)
Box Office: 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Tel: (99-412) 93-61-05, 93-71-76, or 93-31-88
Akif Malikov contributed to this
article. To hear samples of Azerbaijani operas, click on Music
(8.2) Summer 2000.
© Azerbaijan International 2000. All rights reserved.
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