National Academic Opera and Ballet Theater of
Armenia opened the new stage of the Moscow Bolshoi
Theatre earlier this month, performing "Norma"
by Vincenzo Bellini.
Art director and popular tenor Gegham Grigoryan
says the sold-out performances (900 seats at $40-50)
gained showers of praise from audiences.
But bravos and calls for encores were not coming
from the Moscow critics, one even saying that
some parts of the performances were "like
a New Year amateur performance".
"We also often don't like our opera performances,
the main shortcoming of which is staging, but
not vocal part," says Armenian music critic
Nelly Mkhitaryan. "This is a terrible offense,
when Russians crucified the performance."
Mkhitaryan added that it would be better had the
Armenian troupe not gone rather than to return
Before the performances in Moscow management
of the Theatre told Russian journalists about
all the problems the Armenian Opera has endured:
no rehearsals in wintertime because there is no
heating; singers had practiced "Norma"
in a hurry in a small room just before the guest
performances. And he didn't forget to mention
the low salary of the Theatre artists (leading
singers get $30 a month, chief conductor $70).
The Russian media expressed shock upon learning
that $35,000 had been spent to bring the performance
"Amounts nearly equal to this are usually
spent for our medium quality performances,"
writes one of the well-known papers, Izvestiya.
"While Yerevan's 'Norma' had a staging director,
it is difficult to believe that the major part
of $35,000 has been spent for the protagonist's
"When it was necessary to imitate night,
a moon that had been hidden under a black rag
would appear on the background decoration. When
they approached the blood denouement, a naked
dagger would hang down from above, and when there
were parts about the yoke of the Roman empire
on the Gauls a big Roman shoe hung above the stage.
As close as the critic came to praise was a mention
of saying that lead singer Anahit Mkhitaryan,
"Easily overcoming difficult passages she
often got out of time. In that unheated Yerevan
theatre you can find a lot of Normas and Adalgisas
Quite the contrary, the Moscow Times writes,
"Anahit Mkhitaryan, who sang the role of
Norma, proved to be no Maria Callas, but nevertheless
gave a highly effective performance, her rather
lightweight soprano pure from top to bottom, with
a smooth legato and sparkling coloratura."
"Norma" surely counts as one of the
most challenging works in all operas. It requires
a soprano and mezzo soprano with wide range, secure
Norma's part is one of the most difficult ones
in the world opera repertoire, and it has rarely
been staged. Four years prior to the death of
Bellini, in 1831 Milan's audience disrupted with
criticism the first performance of the opera "Norma".
Since then, when society came to love the opera
of Bellini, very few singers dared to set to the
most difficult part. Only in 1950 "Norma"
went through its renaissance, when Maria Callas
included part of Norma in her repertoire.
"I don't quite understand why they are pursuing
formalities and performed with the extremely difficult
opera in Moscow," says Armenian theater critic
Anzhela Mirzoyan. "They could perform with
Aram Khachaturyan's 'Spartak' or other Armenian
opera, for which for sure they wouldn't be criticized
like it has happened."
After performance of "Norma" the Russian
audience learned that Armenian "Norma"
and its actors had applied for participation in
famous "Golden Mask" festival in four
nominations "Best performance", "Best
actress in opera", "Best actor in opera"
and "Best conductor".
That fact shocked Russian press. Izvestia writes,
"Yerevan theatre will look terribly odd there."
And Vremia Novostei newspaper compares the situation
in the following way: "It's the same as if
a rag-doll with buttons instead of eyes could
attract attention if placed between two Barbie