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Around the opera house

In the gardens below the Cascade is a statue of Alexander Tamanian. Carved from a single block of basalt and mounted on a marble plinth, his hands are resting on a plan of the city in this work by Artashes Ovsepian. It has been suggested that this was the first statue of an architect in the entire world. Tamanian, author of the original plan for the Cascade, stands with his back to it and, rather surprisingly, he is facing the back of one of his finest buildings; opened in 1933 as the Yerevan State Opera House, it was renamed two years later, the Spendiarian Armenian Theatre of Opera and Ballet. Note that the oval building also houses the Khachaturian Concert Hall. The entrance to the theatre is on the south side whilst that of the concert hall is on the north side of the building. (See box text below for information on Spendiarian himself.)

The landmark of the northern part of the city, the Opera House (54 Tumanyan Poghots)is surrounded by parks, cafes, nightclubs and shops. The building has two main halls: the Aram Khachaturian Concert Hall and the National Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre, thoroughly upgraded in 2003. Tastes have broadened a bit since Soviet Armenia, and the music scene here goes beyond opera and symphonies to Russian pop, MTV and a night club in the bowels of the Opera House itself.

Aram Khachaturian in front of Opera HouseAt the back of the opera house (ie: on the side nearer the Cascade) is a statue of the Armenian composer who is the best known outside the country, Aram Khachaturian (1903-78). Round the front, the right-hand statue is the eponymous Spendiarian while to the left is Tumanian, a second of whose poems was the source of the most-famous Armenian opera, Anoush. With music by Armen Tigranian it is another gloom-laden tale typical of the time when it was composed although it does contain much attractive Armenian dance music; it was first seen at Alexandropol (Gyumri) in 1912. The piece ends with Anoush leaping off a precipice after her brother has killed her lover for breaking a village taboo.

A sculpture of composer and pianist Arno Babajanian (1921-83) was erected next to the small pond (known, rather appropriately, as Swan Lake) in front of the opera house in September 2002 but had to be removed before its official unveiling because its expressionistic style met with far from universal approval. Passers-by said that the work of sculptor David Bejanian was 'an insult' and even the Armenian president, Robert Kocharian, questioned whether it was appropriate. The main objections were to the exaggerated facial features and the long fingers which, it was claimed, made Babajanian look almost like a bird. Bejanian did agree to take the work away to make the hands more realistic and to 'correct' the face, but he said that his new and unrealistic approach had made his sculpture different from other monuments in the city. He said that 'All the monuments in Yerevan are done in a similar style and if we change heads of all the monuments within one night -for example replace Tumanian's head with Spendiarian's, Sarian's with Komitas's -perhaps only the subjects will feel the change. Arno was done to be in an expressive manner so that his head couldn't be placed on the shoulders of anyone else.' When the statue was returned after its 'correction' any changes were imperceptible.

Alexander Spendiarian (1871 -1928) was an Armenian composer who trained with Rimsky-Korsakov. His most famous work is the opera Almast, based on the poem The Capture of Tmkaberd by the poet Hovhannes Tumanian (1889-1923), and set in 18th-century Crimea. The noble and beautiful Almast is betrothed to Tatul, ruler of the Armenian fortress of Tmkaberd which is under attack by Nadir, Shah of Iran. Nadir deceives Almast into betraying Tatul after which she is killed by the bored Nadir in the poem, but treated very differently in the opera, which has a denouement more in keeping with Soviet Armenia in the 1920s. In it the Armenian forces rise up, liberate the fortress and collectively sentence Almast to exile. Left uncompleted at Spendiarian's death Almast received its premiere at Moscow in 1930 and its first Yerevan performance shortly after the new opera house opened in 1933.

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