5 photos, 5 stories III: Azerbaijan
Azerbaijan’s opera and ballet theater was built in 1911 and was the first opera house in the Muslim world.
It is actually the result of a bet: A popular Russian singer at that time visited Baku, but when asked to come again, she denied due to the lack of a suitable venue in such a rich city.
The magnate Mailov, an admirer of her and her voice, offered her to come back in a year for the opening of the opera house. And he went ahead for the construction. The Azerbaijani philanthropist Taghiyev doubted the feasibility of the construction within a year and the bet was on: He would cover the costs if the schedule would be kept, otherwise Mailov will donate the opera house to him.
This is my abridged version of of what I could find on Wikipedia the construction of Baku’s opera house more than a century ago.
But there is more into it. It is easy to get the buildings – with or without bet – when you have the money. The point is, can you get the content: What is a opera without excellence singers?
What is a concert hall without outstanding players? What is a ballet without superb dancers? What is a university without excellent students and professors? They are nothing and the buildings are not worth the bet by their sponsors.
There is more to this story: Uzeyir Hajibeyov, an Azerbaijani composer and musician, who wrote the first opera piece in the Muslim world:
Leyli and Majnun. The story is based on a tragic love story by medieval Azerbaijan poet Fuzili and the music is a blend of Western opera and Azerbaijani mugham, the traditional Azerbaijani music (mugham asks for a post on its own). And it was only the first of his seven operas.
The blend of Azerbaijani with western elements is a central part of his work. He also wrote the anthem for the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic (ADR). The idea of women’s integration in a male-dominted society is also an important element in his work and in this way he kept the legacy of ADR.
I have seen performances at the opera (and ballet) house. And certainly a special treat is to watch a performance, you won’t be able to see in a Western house such as 1001 nights.