If you live or find yourself in London on August 14 or 15, the city’s only Turkish theatre, the Arcola in Dalston, is staging a version of Dikran Tchouhadjian’s (1837–1898) Gariné. Considered the first opera composer in the Ottoman Empire and known in his lifetime as ‘the Armenian Verdi’ and ‘the Oriental Offenbach’, Tchouhadjian fused European and Eastern traditions to pioneer a thrilling new musical style.
Since its composition in Turkish as Leblebici Horhor Ağa (Master Hor Hor the Chickpea Vendor) in 1875, Gariné has been adapted three times for film (including by Nâzım Hikmet), and has delighted audiences all over Europe and the Middle East. Even after the tragedy of 1915, the work continued to be extremely popular with Turks and Armenians alike.
The version being staged at the Arcola is by Gerald Papasian who directs a semi-staging in English of his own adaptation, previously performed at the Théâtre de Saint-Maur, Paris and the Théâtre de l’Odéon, Marseille. Fusing the Armenian and Turkish settings, this rare production will mark Tchouhadjian’s extraordinary contribution to Turkish and Armenian opera.
Gariné is an operetta bouffe, a style associated with the late 19th-century French composer Jacques Offenbach. The genre contains elements of comedy, satire, frivolity and farce, which is not surprising since its inventor Florimond Ronger, known as Hervé, was an organist in an insane asylum.
The story follows Armen who dreamed of creating the first great theatre company in Constantinople. But on opening night, disaster strikes – his leading actress defects to a rival troupe. Everything seems over until Gariné arrives on the scene. Armen is inflamed with passion for her voice, but her father detests the theatre. Can she be persuaded to defy him, and to sing on opening night? Will it be Gariné that saves the day?
There are two shows, on Friday 14 and Saturday 15 August, both commencing at 7.30pm. The tickets are a bargain at £15, £12 concessions or under £10 with an Arcola Passport. Running time is to be confirmed and seating is allocated. Click here to purchase tickets; they’re selling fast.
Below is a video of highlights from Papasian’s original full staging at the Théâtre de Saint-Maur (Val-de-Marne) in 2010.