Friday, December 21, 2007

Triumph of a Trovatore in Ankara

Yuksel Soylemez The New Anatolian / Ankara/ 20 December 2007

Last Saturday 15 September 2008, the Minister of Culture, Ertugrul Gunay, and his wife, accompanied by their attractive young daughter, honored the State Opera by attending the first night of Verdi's 3 act opera, Il Trovatore in Ankara. Il Trovatore was first performed in Rome on 19 January 1853 and one hundred years later in Ankara in 1955.

This production was staged by Gurcil Celiktas, who earlier this year produced Nabucco with great success on a grand scale. His Trovatore is an even greater triumph for this seasoned Artistic Director of operas who had every right to be proud last Saturday night. The five great voices of the night were Senol Talinli in the lead role as the troubadour in love with Leonora, sung by Feryal Turkoglu, Eralp Kiyici as the Count Luna also in love with Leonora, but hopelessly, Sim Tokyurek as the troubadour's gypsy mother and last but very much not least the irreplaceable bass of the State Opera, famous for his Osmin in Abduction from the Seraglio, the one and only Tuncay Kurtoglu, as Fernando, the narrator soldier friend of the Count.

For some Il Trovatore, meaning the Troubadour, the singing minstrel, is the most lyrical of all the operas Verdi wrote because from beginning to end it is full of melodic arias, duets, quartets and choruses, which were trained and led by Italian Alessandro Cedroni to great heights. In my opinion, in this opera of Verdi the chorus has a greater part than in any other. The costumes by Nursun Unlu also deserve great applause and the simple sets were an effective foil to all the shining gold of the uniforms and richly colorful costumes. The orchestra led by Taner Bozok and conducted by Sunay Muratov attained its greatest heights without drowning the powerful singing. Each perfectly complemented the other.

The production was played to a full house at the State Opera with appreciation and applause, especially from the many young present who value this great talent we are so lucky to have in Turkey. The subject is love and superstition which takes place in a castle in Italy. Leonora, who was sung with great distinction by Feryal Turkoglu, is loved by two men, Manrico, sung by great tenor of the State Opera Senol Talinli with admirable gusto and stamina, and Count Luna, sung with his great voice by Eralp Kiyici, whose love is unrequited. Leonora is in love with Manrico who unknown to them is the brother of the Count, a fact revealed in the last act by the gipsy witch Azucena whose mother had been burned at the stake by the previous Count.

This first night was watched with appreciation and interest by the Minister and his family. On the whole, previous culture ministers with the exception of Istemihan Talay, regrettably have not in the past taken the trouble to attend State Opera productions and we very much hope to see much more of the Minister, busy as he is, at future productions of the Opera and Ballet and at classical music performances by our extremely talented orchestras and soloists. Earlier this year we saw Il Trovatore at Covent Garden, with La Scala and the Metropolitan one of the great opera houses in the world, and in our opinion this production was up to their standard in every way, presenting itself as an equal of the Covent Garden production. As I told her after the performance in her dressing room, Sim Tokyurek as Azucena was better than the one we heard at Covent Garden, not only with her voice but her stature also. She is certainly a rival with the great Jaklin Carkci for the title of Turkey's Azucena, where she made her name before going on to be a famous Turkish Carmen.

This first night gave an opportunity to talk to Ertugrul Gunay on Turkey's promotion in Europe with its classical music, opera and ballet. For that purpose I suggested with humility that Turkey's State Opera should tour German cities with Mozart's Abduction from the Seraglio. I suggested that Carmen, which Bizet wrote in French, should also be toured in France by the Istanbul Opera, and Nabucco, Trovatore or Traviata should go on tour in Italian cities. I also mentioned that there are several Turkish pianists living in the heart of Europe such as Idil Biret, Verda Erman, Huseyin Sermet, the Pekinel sisters, flautist Gulsen Tatu and there should be no inferiority complex about these high standard internationally recognized musicians, who are already very active all over the world as well as in Turkey, and could be sponsored by the Turkish private sector together with the Ministry of Culture to give concerts in towns all over Europe.

I told the Minister that it will primarily be the Ministry of Culture which will lead Turkey into Europe. The road to EU membership is paved with cultural manifestations and identity. It is not too far-fetched to envisage and plan a cultural classical music mobilization, concentrating in Europe, coupled with Turkish films, painting, sculpture, poetry. Small groups, trios, quartets, quintets from the Presidential Orchestra, for example, should concentrate in giving performances in Germany and France in a year where most unfortunately the home of the Presidential Symphony is closed. The Frankfurt book fair is an ideal opportunity as a starting point for this long cultural march. All these activities which can be spread over a period of years can be organized with the contribution of the EU embassies in Ankara and Turkish embassies in Europe on a bilateral cultural exchange programme. Il Trovatore, for which the Italian Cultural Attache Angela Tangianu must also be congratulated, is an admirable example of Italian-Turkish collaboration, and on that opening night many Italians living in Turkey were present and expressed their appreciation and enjoyment of opera in Turkey.

This excellent production of Il Trovatore can be enjoyed again on 26 December, 9 and 28 January and hopefully on many occasions after that.

How many intellectual Europeans know that in five Turkish cities there are 5 opera houses staging operas in their original languages with Turkish subtitles? How many of these people know that there are 5 orchestras in Ankara alone, and provincial symphony orchestras and music groups mushrooming in many cities, not just Istanbul. The Aspendos and Mersin Festivals every summer are a wonderful opportunity for a cultural holiday for all music lovers, whether Turk or foreigners. There is no limit to the imagination if it is understood here in Turkey that Turkey's acceptance and integration culturally in Europe are a most important key to Turkey's EU membership at grass roots level, let alone in the eye of EU opinion and government leaders.

All that said, charity begins at home, and we urge the government to give more recognition and value to the first class talents that Turkey is producing in the world of classical music, opera and ballet. It is a sad state of affairs that the Presidential Symphony Hall has been closed since last spring for repairs which despite all promised dates have still not yet begun. While there must be proper homes and halls, artists and equipment for classical musicians and artists to operate, music is far more important that the comfort of armchairs. Classical music has never been a luxury commodity, that is not its nature. All too often we hear it said, very wrongly and inaccurately, that classical music is a "western Christian art". That is not true: not merely throughout Europe, but all round the world from Tokyo and Bejing to Cairo, to former Soviet Union countries such as Georgia, Azerbaijan, Moldova to towns all over the USA, to cities of Latin America such as Mexico, Lima, Caracas, Santiago, classical music, opera and ballet can be enjoyed as a human right of civilized countries, as food for the soul which reaches way past boundaries of religion and nationality, playing a unifyingly peaceful part with no violent scenes such as are all too often witnessed in the mass fanaticism of football matches. To sum it up, life is short, art is long. We ask our leaders to respect that.