Kazakh opera gem Birzhan – Sara by M. Tulebayev is returning to the Astana Opera’s stage in the new musical and scenic version. Moreover, the director’s staging, as well as sets, costumes and lighting will be on par with the best world opera houses. Incredible surprises will be revealed to the audience on the premiere days – April 20 and 21.
The new musical and scenic version will be presented within the framework of the celebration of Astana’s twentieth anniversary under the auspices of the Ministry of Culture and Sports of the Republic of Kazakhstan.
M. Tulebayev’s lyric-dramatic opera to the libretto of K. Jumaliyev was first presented on November 7, 1946, at the Abay Kazakh Opera and Ballet Theatre. Over 72 years, the opera Birzhan – Sara has gained international fame: it was presented in Moscow on December 6, 1958, at the decade of Kazakh art. It was very successful in Berlin and Dresden (1986). Later the libretto was translated into Turkish, and it was performed in Samsun in 2013, as well as in Istanbul, Bursa, Eskisehir and Ankara in 2014. In the same year the Astana Opera Company performed this opera in Russia at the Mariinsky Theatre.
Birzhan – Sara is a true treasure of Kazakh opera art. A decision to breathe new life to this national classical masterpiece was made at the capital’s opera house. Thanks to the latest modern theatrical technologies, the opera is adapted to the technical equipment of the stage, and exclusive solutions of the production team are incorporated.
The production team is represented by: Stage Director – Honored Worker of Kazakhstan A. Mayemirov, PhD, Consulting Director – Principal Stage Director of the Bolshoi Theatre of Belarus, laureate of the G. Tukai State Prize of the Tatarstan Republic M. Pandzhavidze, Music Director and Conductor – Honored Worker of Kazakhstan A. Mukhitdinov, Choreographers – Honored Workers of Kazakhstan T. Nurkaliyev, A. Tati. Assistant Directors - Y. Nursultan, Y. Toikenov. Set and Costume Designers – S. Tasmagambetova and P. Dragunov. Music Editor – T. Zharmukhamet. Lighting Designer – J. Pantani, Projections Designer – S. Metalli. Principal Choirmaster – Honored Worker of Kazakhstan Y. Dautov.
The new director’s version differs from the previous ones by the scale of its form. This means that all scenes will be expanded. All kinds of attributes of fairground festivities will be presented to the audience, and in order to recreate a realistic atmosphere, animals will take part in the production.
In addition, the performance concept is distinguished by its lack of one-sided character interpretations. The love story of Birzhan and Sara, which didn’t find a place on this earth will be presented to the viewers. Traditionally, the opera ends with the death of the protagonist, but the directors want to leave the light at the end of the tunnel, so that the audience understands that the sacrifice, made in the name of love, was not in vain. The story of Birzhan and Sara made it possible for thousands of descendants to unite, and it remained in people’s memory as a symbol of the great power of love, inciting us to incredible actions.
Anything Impossible is Possible
Looking at the sketches, it seems impossible to make such beautiful scenery a reality. Phenomenal technologies are used in the performance for the first time: beyond belief, several tons of water will be used onstage. Pictures of the rich Kazakhstani nature are implemented both in rigid sets and in 3D projections. It should also be noted that this production is created in a cinematic way.
Sofya Tasmagambetova and Pavel Dragunov began working on the sketches in the fall of 2017. The designers admit that it was not easy to undertake a national production. The set and costume designers do not have the right to make a mistake; they must bring something new into the opera and surprise the viewers without violating national style.
“Labor-intensive work was done to create outfits for three ballet scenes, each of which includes 48 artists. The costumes for the choir artists are very bright and rich. Therefore, the most important task for us was to make the lead characters even more colorful and expressive. Birzhan’s noble attire states his status and age. Sara’s wedding dress is very delicate. The vest is made in the national style, embroidered with gold-colored metal ornaments. We wanted to make the bride herself like a jewel. The fabrics’ texture was chosen taking into account new technological possibilities, modern materials are very high-quality, and their color range is diverse,” said Sofya Tasmagambetova and Pavel Dragunov.
It took a little less than half a year to manufacture the props. The craftsmen worked according to updated technologies. Now, stools, a closet and chests are not just painted, but decorated with relief patterns, which were created with the use of a milling machine, on which ornaments are cut. In addition, complex metal work was carried out. There is also pottery: several dozen jugs were prepared. There is a lot of incuse in this production: all the belts are decorated with intricate patterns, prop masters laboriously worked for at least 3 hours over each detail. There are about 100 such belts. A team of prop masters worked on spears and arrows. A clock made of real wood deserves particular attention. The craftsmen needed carpentry skills to manually make small details. The gramophone has also drawn our attention. It looks very plausible, and even though it does not play, its task is to convey the atmosphere of that time.
Artistry in the Highest Sense of the Word
The props have already been transferred to the rehearsal halls, so that the artists can get into characters using everyday objects in various scenes.
Not every singer can portray Birzhan, as it is very complex, large, requiring gathering all strength. Laureates of many international competitions Meir Bainesh and Beimbet Tanarykov are preparing to present this role. Charismatic singer Meir Bainesh more than once brilliantly performed this part at the Astana Opera. Beimet Tanarykov performs the role of Birzhan throughout his creative career. The soloist puts meaning into every word, reinforcing them with his gestures and facial expressions. A vocalist’s work on a role is similar to the processing of a rough diamond and turning it into a beautiful gem. The soloist has a beautiful vocal timbre and stunning artistry.
Honored Artist of Kazakhstan, opera prima Maira Mukhamedkyzy will be debuting in the role of Sara. Wonderful soprano, Honored Artist of Kazakhstan Zhannat Baktai has already performed the role of jealous Altynai in this opera, but she will also portray Sara for the first time.
“My dreams are coming true, I wanted to perform this role for a long time, but I always thought that I was not ready for it, because I understood that you need to have enough experience to interpret it. Sara has a strong temper, a strong character. From the vocal point of view, this is also a difficult part, which requires a classical performance. Thus, I compare Mukan Tulebayev’s opera Birzhan – Sara with G. Puccini’s operas, which reflect great dynamics. I will try to perform it in the Italian manner of sound, so that every word is clear,” Maira Mukhamedkyzy said.
Music Director and Conductor, Honored Worker of Kazakhstan Abzal Mukhitdinov noted that in order to survive and remain in demand any scenic music performance should fully comply with the dictates of the times.
“The operas Abai and Kyz Zhibek, staged over a year ago, are still being sold out. However, for the opera Birzhan – Sara there is a need for a new staging. The composer Mukan Tulebayev’s music is very bright, beautiful and singing by nature. It is known that he himself was a professional vocalist. In the opera Birzhan – Sara the composer used musical quotes of national akyns, the song Aitpai is an exposition of the main character,” Abzal Mukhitdinov shared. Maestro also emphasized that there are three masterpieces of Kazakh opera art in the Astana Opera’s repertoire. All of them are staged at the highest world level, and today Kazakh opera is experiencing a flourishing and is in demand of listeners.