TBY talks to Toleubek Alpiyev, CEO of Astana Opera, on the highlights of the opera and its importance to cultivating heritage in Kazakhstan.
What have been some of the highlights of Astana Opera since it was established?
This is one of the youngest opera houses in the world, and certainly one of the most interesting and distinctive opera houses in all of Eurasia. During the 1990s, opera houses in the Central Asian region were closing for one reason or another, but in Kazakhstan classical arts remained strong and important for the country. In modern Kazakhstan, we sought not to limit ourselves to our original native culture, but instead to develop and showcase the cultural heritages of the entire world. It is important not to be closed-off or to limit society, but to be open to all the countries that are developing classical culture and arts. In Kazakhstan, there is a great harmony between classical arts such as ballet, opera, symphonic music, instrumental music, and our traditional drama theatre and music. These cultures merge and work together here.
What specific arts do you find most in-demand in Astana?
We try not to follow the demand of the public, because the audience is under the influence of many things, such as television and popular culture. Instead, we actively promote the development of culture and arts that we want to share with our listeners. This is our mission. Astana has a wide variety of cultural events to offer. If you want jazz, pop, or national music, everything is available here. We exist in a competitive field, but luckily for us our performances are unique. Therefore, the attention to our productions is very high. The reason for this attention is the high quality we bring to local audiences. Our choir is internationally praised, and it has already won four Grand Prix in different competitions. Our ballet troupe is also very successful, not only here, but also overseas where our performers are invited to perform. They were recently invited to perform in Italy. Within the framework of Expo 2015 in Milan, four of our soloists were invited to participate in the performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony at the Teatro Carlo Felice with the Italian orchestra and choir. The audiences welcomed them warmly and they had positive press. Moreover, the final of the Ninth Symphony is the hymn of the European Union, so this gives more responsibility to the performers of this symphony.
What is it about the Astana Opera that attracts people here?
There are different reasons. There are some people that want to support the young theater. There are those that are pleasantly surprised that there is a new opera house in Central Asia/Kazakhstan and they want to work together. Therefore, the tourism scene is also getting stronger because of this. Viewers from other cities of Kazakhstan and from Russia come to Astana specifically to see our productions. We not only attract soloists, but also stage directors, costume designers, set designers, and conductors that we invite to stage our productions. When you welcome them warmly, and they come to see that the orchestra and choir are on par with European ones, they want to come back to work with us repeatedly. Recently, we had a premiere of our national opera “Abai» on September 25th and 26th. It is a Kazakhstani classical opera, but even so, we invited the Italian team to work with us. The director was famous Italian director Giancarlo del Monaco, set designer Ezio Frigerio, and costume designer the Academy Award winner Franca Squarciapino. It is interesting for them to work on our productions, and it’s important for us that such high level specialists come here. They are aware of all the high technologies and the traditions of theatrical craft that are preserved in Italy and Milan. They don’t care if it is an Italian or Kazakhstani production; they can adapt to any culture so long as we ensure the highest standards. Also it is vital for us to learn from these specialists so that our young specialists can continue these traditions in Kazakhstan as well. Our ballet troupe already has offers through 2017, 2018, and 2019, for performances such as Romeo and Juliet and The Fountain of Bakhchysarai from countries like the Netherlands and Belgium. We want to show our national operas there as well and we will work together toward that goal.
What are your expectations for the year ahead?
We have only one way forward: to stage high class, highly artistic productions to the highest international standards. We have opportunities to stage high-level productions and invite the best soloists to participate in them. That’s what the public expects, and we must deliver. People see big, bright shows on TV, and it is imperative we are able to compete with that. We have put together a grand show for the 550th anniversary of the Kazakh Khanate, and those who watched it on TV said it was one of the best shows ever staged in Kazakhstan.