TURKMENISTAN stages first opera after 19-year ban. State theatre in country's capital displayed Italian composer Ruggero Leoncavallo's famous opera, 'Pagliacci'.

ASHGABAT : Reclusive Turlmenistan staged it s first foreign opera on Tuesday last, nearly 19 years after the Central Asian country's founding president banned the art form as ''incompatible with Turkmen mentality''.

A state theatre in the capital Ashgabat was packed for the staging of 19th century Italian composer Ruggero Leoncavallo's opera Pagliacci [Clowns] as part of international drama festival.

Older spectators leaving the theatre late on a cool Tuesday night voiced nostalgia for the long-taboo art form while younger spectators enthused over the performance.

Mekyan Byashimov, a 54-year old school teacher said he hoped that operas would be staged regularly and that ballet would also make a reappearance on the national stage. ''We used to have good premieres. I went regularly. If we want to call ourselves a cultured nation, we need to restore opera and ballet,'' Byashimov said.

Aina Shiryayeva, a 20-year-old student watching opera for the first time said that she had enjoyed the performance despite not understanding any of the words. ''The music and the artists! Everything was so wonderful. I am delighted. i have seen the opera!'' she added.

Gas-rich Turkmenistan's eccentric first leader Sapurmurat Niyazov banned opera as well as foreign ballet in 2001 in what he posted was move to protect Turkmen culture.

The ban on art forms closely associated with Soviet and Russian imperial rule continued under second president Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, who came to power after Niyazov's death in 2006.

the director of Tuesday's joint Turkmen-Italian performance Daniele de Plano told the publication in an interview that Pagliacci was staged as part of of a ''cultural exchange programme'' between Italy and Turkmenistan.

He said he felt ''honored to be the first director to bring back the opera'' to Muslim-majority Turkmenistan. ''I really hope this is the beginning of a new path of ties becoming closer between Turkmenistan and opera, particularly Italian opera,'' shared de Plano.

Of the main roles in the performance only one was played by an Italian, with the others filled by Turkmen singers.

Baritoone Armangeldi Amanov was singing for the second time as part of Silvo -a lover who gets murdered by a jealous husband, the opera's lead character, Canio.

The first time he played the role in March 2001 was his debut and also the last time that opera was performed in Ashgabat, a city of one million.

''This is historic for us. Our younger generation is coming into contact with European culture. The performance is the first step in the comeback of Turkmen operatic tradition,'' Amanov revealed before the performance.

Strongman Berdymukhamedov has maintained many of the repressive policies of his late predecessor, whom he once served as a personal dentist. Both men are honored by golden statues in Ashgabar, testifying to leadership cults that draw regular comparisons with North Korea. [AFP]


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