A Night at the Opera

Last Saturday Nadia, Ocean and I finally attended a performance in the Alisher Navoi State Academic Bolshoi Theatre (Navoi Theater). Concerts, plays, lectures, exhibitions, etc. are coming back after COVID caused a limited schedule. Things are back in full swing and probably around 25% of the people were wearing masks. As with most things in Uzbekistan, opera here is so affordable with tickets costing 50,000 UZS ($4.50) each and free parking along the side of the theatre. To my amateur eyes and ears, I thought it was an excellent performance with strong voices, colorful costumes, detailed sets, etc. The only difference from a North American or European performance was all the songs were in Russian.

The theatre is one of the iconic landmarks of Tashkent and I really wanted to see it from the inside. The building was constructed in the aftermath of World War II, starting in 1942 and opening to the public in November 1947. The Soviets named the theatre after the Turkic poet and linguist, Alisher Navoi (1441-1501). They were trying to build up the idea of Uzbek culture and identity while bringing European theatre to Central Asia. I wonder what Navoi, a proponent of Turkic language over the dominant Persian language and culture at the time would think of a building named after him holding Russian language performances. The government included Japanese Prisoners of War in the construction of the theatre and there is a monument to their contribution. It seats 1,400 and it was about 2/3 full on this night. The crowd is definitely laid back and it was easy to take video and photos of the performance. I think that is the way to go in modern times to promote opera with the next generation.

I chose Carmen because it is one of the big three most popular operas. We stayed for the end of the second act to listen to the “hits” Habanero and El Toreador arias. I am not a big fan of opera but for a night out once in a while, it was a pleasurable evening. There is something about seeing a live performance and listening to a live orchestra that cannot be replicated at home. Attending classical music events is like time travel. In the late 19th century, this was their NetFlix and it is fascinating to think that we can experience it today. The plot is a bit cheesy, a soldier leaves the military and drops his girlfriend for Carmen, a “gypsy” woman. The music and costumes make up for it and I was thoroughly entertained.

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