Turkmenistan stages first opera after 19-year ban

Turkmenistan stages first opera after 19-year ban

Turkmenistan has staged its first foreign opera after nearly 19 years after operatic performances were banned as “incompatible with Turkmen mentality”.

The theatre in the capital, Ashgabat, was packed for the performance of 19th-century Italian composer Ruggero Leoncavallo’s opera “Pagliacci” (Clowns) during an international arts festival.

Only one Italian played a major role in the two-act tale of love and betrayal. Turkmen singers played the other major roles.

Mekan Byashimov, a 54-year-old teacher, said he hoped more operas would be staged regularly and ballet would reappear.

“We used to have good premieres. I went regularly. If we want to call ourselves a cultured nation, we need to restore opera and ballet,” said Byashimov.

Gas-rich Turkmenistan’s first leader Sapurmurat Niyazov banned opera and foreign ballet in 2001 in order to “protect” Turkmen culture.

He also banned gold teeth, circuses, recorded music at weddings and men from using car radios.

He outlawed lip-syncing at public concerts and dogs from Ashgabat, because of their “unappealing odour”. He also purportedly banned beards and makeup for television presenters. Niyazov told people to chew on bones and banned the Turkmen word for bread and renamed it gurbansoltan, after his mother.

The prohibition against opera was lifted by Niyazov’s successor and former dentist, President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, 62, who replaced Niyazov after his death at 66 in 2006. Niyazov had ruled the country since 1985.

There is no indication if Berdymukhamedov, who like Niyazov has ordered a golden statue of himself, intends to relax Turkmenistan’s ballet ban.

Rights groups say the gas-rich Central Asian state is one of the world’s most repressive nations. About 2 million people have reportedly left since 2008, despite bans on foreign travel for the under-40s.

Unusual mosque

The Türkmenbaşy Ruhy Mosque, built by Niyazov, is unlike most mosques in that its walls are inscribed, controversially, with scriptures from not just the Koran but also the Ruhnama, semi-illiterate Niyazov’s spiritual guide to life.

The book, Ruhnama (The Book of the Soul), is a rambling mess full of dubious claims.

Niyazov had copies distributed to every school and library and reading it was compulsory for the driving test and it was required reading in schools and universities.


Ashgabat. Picture credit: Wikimedia 

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