Each time I see an Armenian opera and leave disappointed, my Armenian friends keep telling me to wait until I hear Anush, by Armen Tigranian. I have missed it by a few days several times, but tonight it was staged at the Armenian National Opera while I was actually in Yerevan. Unfortunately, once again I left disappointed. My friends completely over-hyped this opera. Indeed, it was prettier than any other Armenian opera I have attended. But it was also just as dull.
Composed in 1912, the opera used Armenian folk music and stories as inspiration. Set in northern Armenia, it tells the tale of Anush, a peasant girl, caught up in a traditional feud. Her betrothed, Saro, accidentally insults the honor of her brother, Mosi. As a result, Mosi hunts down Saro and kills him. Anush, mad with grief, climbs a mountain and throws herself into the Debed River Gorge.
The costumes tonight were traditional, and the simple set evocative. Blocking was generally blockish. And instead of throwing herself into the Gorge at the final curtain, Anush oddly wrapped herself in ivy. But the staging, although it could have shown more development, was not the problem.
The choral passages were also not the problem. Lush harmonies stood out as absolutely the musical highlights of the evening – those sections I would gladly hear again. The problem came that Tigranian’s writing for solo voice or duets did not cut it, dragging on too long and constantly losing flow. Soprano Anahit Mekhitaryan, whom I heard in Traviata in July, starred in the title role, with her appropriately delicate-sounding voice rising anything but delicately to fill the hall with a pure sound. Her tenor counterpart, Sargis Aghmalyanperforming as Saro, did not match her. His voice sounded tired right from the first note. His acting also looked tired. However, Baritone Gevorg Hakobyan, as Mosi, did inject drama and passion into an otherwise dull evening, and his duets with Mekhitaryan, though just as boring musically, at least allowed two well-matched and intelligent voices to try to keep the plot moving.
Conductor Karen Durgaryan seemed unable to keep everything together. Orchestra, cast, and chorus were not always in time. The uninspiring music dragged maybe more than it should have. The ballet had no spring. The folk dances had no lilt. Even Anush’s never-ending final monologue almost made me want to go on stage and shove her off the cliff myself to get it over with.
To be fair, some of the problems with this opera may have come from external distractions, which ruined the entire atmosphere. Although the orchestra sat in the pit on time and the show looked ready to start, the curtain took literally 45 minutes to go up. Why? The audience kept breaking into applause to try to force the conductor to come out and the opera to begin. After the opera finally did begin, the audience lost interest and would not shut up all night. During the second and third acts, it sounded like someone decided it was time to vacuum back stage on stage left, which could only have distracted the performers as much as it distracted me. At one point I was sure I heard someone sweeping out the loge boxes with a whisk broom. At other times, it sounded like someone had airlifted themselves onto the building’s roof and started running around. I don’t know if the opera would have been better without these distractions, but somehow I think they provided more excitement than the music.
Maybe I need to stick to Georgian opera.