Opera returns to Turkmenistan after nearly 19 years

ASHGABAT (TCA) — Opera has returned to Turkmenistan after nearly 19 years of being banned along with ballet by the Central Asian country’s first post-Soviet president as “incompatible with Turkmen mentality,” RFE/RL’s Turkmen Service reported.

Nineteenth-century Italian composer Ruggero Leoncavallo’s opera Pagliacci (Clowns) was performed on November 19 in a packed state-run theater in the capital, Ashgabat, as part of a cultural exchange program between Italy and Turkmenistan.

Only one Italian played a main role in the two-act opera that weaves a dramatic tale of love and betrayal.

Turkmen singers played the other major roles.

Baritone Amangeldi Amanov was one of them. The last time he played the lead role, Canio, was in March 2001, which was also the last time opera was performed in the Turkmen capital city.

In an apparent attempt to protect Turkmen culture, Turkmenistan’s first leader, Saparmurat Niyazov, banned opera as well as foreign ballet in 2001.

His successor, Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, extended the ban on art forms after Niyazov’s death in 2006.

Things seem to have changed now, as the grand opening of the III International Theatre Festival took place in Ashgabat on November 19.

The festival, organized by the Ministry of Culture of Turkmenistan, brought together 14 theatre groups representing 12 states, including Afghanistan, Iran, Italy, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, Russia, the United States of America, Tajikistan, Turkey, Uzbekistan, Ukraine, and Estonia, the State News Agency of Turkmenistan reported.

In his address to the Festival’s participants, President Berdymukhammedov said that independent neutral Turkmenistan undergoes the epoch of unprecedented changes – ambitious reforms and the golden age of the national culture.

“Theater is an integral part of world culture, which plays an important role in the mental improvement of a society,” the Turkmen president said.

Sergey Kwan


Sergey Kwan has worked for The Times of Central Asia as a journalist, translator and editor since its foundation in March 1999. Prior to this, from 1996-1997, he worked as a translator at The Kyrgyzstan Chronicle, and from 1997-1999, as a translator at The Central Asian Post.
Kwan studied at the Bishkek Polytechnic Institute from 1990-1994, before completing his training in print journalism in Denmark.

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