Do we need theatre?

Back in 1983, an Estonian show-band, which was popular in the Soviet years, sang a funny song about neglectful music lovers; “We love opera very much”. They were defining their love towards “amazing and delightful theatre’s buffet”. ( So, I remembered this song these days, when the scandal exploded over the dismissal of the director and the art director of the Yerevan Opera and Ballet Theatre, maestro Konstantin Orbelyan.

I do not want to give details of the case, they are well known to all the interested people, to all those whom this problem touched a nerve. Obviously, the far-fetched claim, the bureaucratic lead with personal animosity or, even worse, the directive issued from above, caused a wide burst of resentment among all the segments of the population of the republic. When this material was written, neither positive nor negative decision had been taken yet. But now this is not even about a particular person or one person’s particular decision at the top. This is about our relation to the culture, to the cultured person and to the art. It seems that such an approach came from the old Soviet times, when the culture was led by the people, who were far from it and, actually, did not even like it. And not much has changed during independence. The first president was absolutely indifferent to it, the second pretended that he liked jazz and during the third one’s rule, rabiz and the vulgarist pop-music flourished. The concert and theatre halls were emptied, in the society the slope went to the club culture, to the television with its terrible and, downright, corrupting “entertainment” programmes, to other Stand-Up-s and humorous clubs. Of course, the concerts of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra and the Opera diva Reneé Fleming’s solo performance (by the way, it was Konstantin Orbelyan, who could bring her due to his personal contacts) managed to gather a full philharmonic hall. But here it  must be taken into account that in the hall there were a little more than 1500 places, and it would be too sad if in Yerevan there was not such a small number of admirers of serious music. And these are the superstars of the world stage. And, for example, the concert of the State Choir Chapel of H.Cheqijyan, dedicated to Komitas’s anniversary, for which in many countries people do a standing ovation, did not have even a half of the hall. The same is about many other classical concerts. And what do you want? If people have been drilled for years that it is an old thing, that anyone no longer needs the classic, that the main thing is only the strong management, and also persistent boys and girls get to the proscenium who just want to be “on TV” and then to be invited to a company party, to an opening ceremony of the new car dealership, to a big wedding, literally, they are able to do anything, it is quite natural that the result will be like this. And we’ll have the same approach to the serious cultural figures.

Sometimes a strange thought comes to my mind — well, maybe, this is musical culture, high art? People do not go to the philharmonic, so there is no need. There is no winning love by force. Maybe it is true that all these Mozarts and Beethovens are outdated? If you throw them up in the Dj processing with all sorts of loupes in dub-step and deep house styles, people will be dancing, having fun in the car on the way to Sevan, listening and enjoying. How to sit on the chair at the philharmonic for two hours and listen to something boring… or opera? Well, what are they singing there? Words can’t be understood, there are cardboard decorations, suits are sewn out of  wastes and old curtains. Who will be listening to it? Now, look, in Zimbabwe there isn’t an opera theatre or a  state philharmonic orchestra, and still  people just live normally for themselves. And they do not have problems with whom to appoint as a new director of the Opera theatre — Eduard Topchyan, who loudly declares about it from time to time? And in his place of Sergey Smbatyan whose image was raised by almost all the state resources? No theatre, no orchestra — no problems. Iron logic. Give the building to the most powerful casino in the world with an adjacent restaurant and send all the released money to the construction of a new high-end hotel in Tsaghkadzor, hoping again that it would turn to Courchevel, and rich tourists would flock there from all over the world. Why not? Isn’t it an option? And we would get rid of opera problems and would develop tourism. No need to mention  that there would be no more problems with these persistent and vivacious musicians. We would kill just two birds with one stone.

And you will ask what to do with those young talents who are born here, no matter the political or economical system? Elementary! Either let them rot here with the lack of opportunity to study, develop and “sharpen” in restaurants and clubs or, even easier, practically expel them abroad. Let them get grants there, let them study there, make a name, position in the musical world and then we will be proud of them here, we’ll invite them home and interview. Write them down in a list of “Great Armenians” and be very very proud. From a distance. For free. Without generating any efforts.

You will say, no, how? We are a nation of an ancient culture, we are the first in the world, we are the best, we have Mashtots, Komitas, Garni and Geghard. And we also have dolma and lavash at home. We can not go without opera theatre! Ah, do we actually need it? Well, then we have to work hard so that not only would it be, but it  would also continue to be and to develop. And for it there is a need in investments, in a notorious management and in a correct staff selection policy. In the art a lot can depend on just one person, a leading specialist. Of course, a general level is also important, but if the leading in the theme is a decent person, he will be able to pull any team with him. And what was happening with our opera theatre, philharmonic and chamber orchestras? Remember. We had Valery Gergiev. We survived. We had Ohan Duryan — we replaced. In the most severe years Loris Chgnavoryan was doing something — we did not like. From the latest — Karen Durgaryan, he also did not fit, and now he works magnificently well in Novosibirsk. And at what Aram Gharabekian was reduced to? Here we can not and do not like talented people. We are jealous, if one person does something useful, necessary, beautiful, we feel instant jealousy, passing it to hatred, a wish, by all means, to steal the started work, to take charge and then, no matter what happens. What kind of people are we?

Well, now more accurately. If in the nearest future the question of human resources is not resolved in the Ministry of Culture, it must be simply closed. Anyway, its activity is useless for everyone. Musicians, performers, artists, organizers only ask: “If you do not help — at least do not disturb”. Further, give opportunity to the cultured and recognized individuals to work and create cultural heritage calmly, without a fear of being blamed in something , to invite talented compatriots from abroad to leadership positions without paying attention to  the bureaucratic difficulties, to encourage patronage, support children’s musical schools and colleges, stop broadcasting rabiz on television… Ooh, actually, there are many things to do. And no one says it will be easy… But if it is not done, if we continue to fight with the best people of the country and with the best ideas, it will be better to close the opera theatre right now. And at the same time all the other theatres, museums and other “objects” that do not make a profit. And why to spend money in vain?

Author: Armen Manukyan ©All rights reserved. 

Translator: Sona Melkonyan