The Resounding Success of the Astana Opera in Tashkent

The Astana Opera’s artists’ performance of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly on July 13 at the Alisher Navoi State Academic Bolshoi Theatre was a big triumph. The grand production concluded the opera house’s tour, which took place within the framework of the Year of Kazakhstan in Uzbekistan and was organized by the Ministry of Culture and Sports of the Republic of Kazakhstan.

The Astana Opera Symphony Orchestra performed under the baton of the famous Italian Maestro Giuseppe Acquaviva, the Artistic Director of one of the major European opera houses, Teatro Carlo Felice, who is a renowned specialist in Puccini operas and is well-versed in all the subtle details of this rather complicated performing style. A long-standing friendship bonds the celebrated conductor with the Astana Opera.

The orchestra musicians played masterfully and organically, and it seemed as if the music was flowing from the stage.

This opera, imbued with the verismo spirit of everyday life truth, was Puccini’s favorite work. He could “listen to it without fatigue again and again”. It has also won over the hearts of Tashkent viewers, who were touched by the tragedy of the little geisha. With the latest chords, the crowded auditorium burst into applause, the production astounded Tashkent residents and guests of the capital.

“Everyone really wanted to see and listen to the opera Abai, which opened the tour. We were amazed by the power and beauty of the voices: the singers simply lived onstage, and we were also in awe of the magnificent sets. Rightfully, Tashkent’s opera house has not given such lengthy standing ovations in a long time. We have also been looking forward to the opera Madama Butterfly. I was impressed by the sets of this spectacular, beautiful production. The performers, and also choral crowd scenes presented at the very beginning of the performance attracted attention. I was impressed by the pool that glittered all the time. One feels the masterful hand of the Stage Director, Costume and Set Designers,” the Honoured Worker of Culture of the Republic of Uzbekistan, musicologist, Associate Professor of the Department of Music History and Criticism of the State Conservatory of Uzbekistan Inessa Gulzarova noted.

“I am very happy to listen to our colleagues, representatives of art and music. I consider this visit a celebration for us. Incredible, strong and expressive, absolutely amazing voices, such beautiful bel canto, the choir is very mobile, flexible. The artists’ portrayals turned out complete, clear, as well as their superb job in duets. The skill of the orchestra should be noted as well, its sound balance was perfect: the musicians did not drown out the soloists, very high level. Opera art is an indicator of cultural development. The ability to perform Italian opera in such a high quality is a major achievement,” composer Dilorom Saidaminova gives her opinion.

“Without any exaggeration, I want to express my absolute admiration. I had the pleasure to be in Astana, at the Astana Opera and in 6 years it managed to become one of the most attractive opera houses on the planet, not only in terms of its architecture and amenities created for the audience and artists, but, above all, its staggeringly high artistic level. Not all opera houses can boast this, but during this time you have been visited by the leading opera and ballet stars. Such regard needs to be won, it is not just respect for the republic, for the people, this is recognition of the opera house. Your productions are a huge phenomenon in the cultural and spiritual life of Uzbekistan, this is a confirmation that our ties are strengthening,” a journalist, art critic, Master of Philosophical Science Alo Khodjaev said.

“Everything is very harmonious visually and what I hear does not dominate one another, which is very important. The artists keenly feel the music. The Astana Opera’s tour is a great event, thanks to you, the city is becoming more and more culturally eventful,” Boris Gafurov, the Artistic Director of the Ilkhom Theatre emphasized.

“You have wonderful artists who presented the popular story of Madama Butterfly at a very high level. As the Ambassador to Kazakhstan, whenever I visit Nur-Sultan, I try to go to the Astana Opera, so I know the high quality, the world standard of the Astana Opera. Today is no exception; I am really enjoying the performance. I congratulate the Astana Opera on the successful tour. I have seen many performances in Central Europe, and your production meets the highest international standards. I am sure, anywhere the Astana Opera will perform, they will draw attention and praise,” the Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan Masud Mannan shared.

“Today we had a true celebration of high art. I am very pleased with the visit of our colleagues from Kazakhstan. They were marvelous, what they did was world level,” the Honoured Artist of Uzbekistan, saxophonist Yunus Gulzarov gave his assessment.

From the very beginning of the opera, the performer of Madama Butterfly – the Honoured Artist of Kazakhstan Zhannat Baktai – kept the audience on tenterhooks. By the end of the last scene, the listeners did not hold back their tears. Butterfly is the most complex and multifaceted among all Puccini’s female characters. Defenseless, faithful, she has an inner core of strength and is unable to compromise. Cio-Cio-san’s internal drama is revealed deeply and comprehensively in the opera, in all the richness of emotional nuances. The plot dictates the importance of not only vocal, but also acting skills. It can be said with confidence that Zhannat Baktai performed this difficult part wonderfully. Butterfly’s devoted maid Suzuki is always by her side. Realizing the hopelessness of the situation, she shares with her mistress all the hardships of a long wait for Pinkerton. The Honored Worker of Kazakhstan Dina Khamzina’s interpretation of this heroine was exquisitely poignant. The Kazakh opera star, a magnificent mezzo-soprano, demonstrated her honed acting skills and virtuoso vocal ability.

The Honoured Worker of Kazakhstan Medet Chotabayev portrayed the carefree adventurer Pinkerton, demonstrating flawless vocals and tremendous acting talent. Italians have recognized that he is one of the few to continue the bel canto tradition. For great achievements in the opera art, the title of a Knight of the Order of the Star of Italy was bestowed on Medet Chotabayev. Admittedly, the story’s frivolous protagonist is no stranger to the pangs of conscience, but his repentance comes way too late…

The Honoured Worker of Kazakhstan Talgat Mussabayev performed the role of the distinguished United States Consul at Nagasaki Sharpless. His smooth rich baritone and unhurried manner contrasted with Pinkerton’s impetuosity. The singer’s natural chivalry was consonant with the image of Sharpless.

Ramsat Balakishiyev, Talgat Galeyev, Zhanat Shybykbayev, Umerzhan Kadyrov, Shyngys Rassykhan, Samat Zharylkassynov, Yelena Ganzha, Madina Islamova, Nazym Sagintai and Sarsenbai Arnur demonstrated excellent acting and vocal skills. Tatyana Vitsinskaya presented her American heroine Kate Pinkerton with special charm.

“A wonderful audience, singing in front of it was a pleasure, because we all felt their feedback, which is very important for singers. We showed our art on this historical stage. I hope that we will bring here many more new, beautiful operas,” Medet Chotabayev noted.

“What a hot climate, and equally warm audience, we were welcomed with joy and friendliness. I am thrilled! We were supported by applause after each spectacular number,” Zhannat Baktai shared.

The choir under the leadership of the Honoured Worker of Kazakhstan Yerzhan Dautov was magnificent as always.

Outstanding contemporary designer Ezio Frigerio created the sets for this production with Japanese flavour. It reflects deep psychologism of the little geisha’s story. At the beginning of the performance, Cio-Cio-san’s house is decorated with flags and shrouded in delicate flowers. It is surrounded by beautiful nature, which reflects the hope of a realization of the heroine’s naive dream of a happy life together with Pinkerton. A house that has fallen into disrepair, withered flowers are consonant with the internal state of Butterfly herself at the end of the performance: there is no longer any hope for a brighter future.

Hand-painted panels parted in front of the viewers, which allowed them to see the image of the city, spread out on a hill. A play of light and 3D effects were added to all of this. Reflections on the waters of a lake in front of Butterfly’s house amazed the audience. Unique full-scale structures were used for this: an 18-meter pool, in which, it seemed, one could see the reflection of both the sun and the stars.

Each costume in this production was a true work of art, created by the Academy Award winner Franca Squarciapino. Elaborate hats and wigs completed the heroines’ images. The main character’s costume is a real hand-made Japanese kimono, which has an enormous artistic value. The Astana Opera received it as a gift from the Embassy of Japan in Kazakhstan.

The company presented the production of Madama Butterfly in a vivid and very heartfelt manner. Puccini created a genuine musical tragedy, which has retained for all times its main virtue – exalted human feelings celebrated in music.

The performance of Madama Butterfly was attended by cultural and art workers, veterans, and also representatives of the Kazakh expatriate community. Incessant applause addressed to the singers, the Maestro and the orchestra musicians could be heard in the auditorium for a long time.

The tour aroused great interest among the residents and guests of the capital of Uzbekistan. They discussed the productions of Zhubanov and Khamidi’s Abai and Puccini’s Madama Butterfly with delight and spoke about the professional level of Kazakh performers with admiration. In their opinion, the Astana Opera tour has become a real historical event in the cultural life of the two countries.

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