Turkey, our adopted country, is a blessed place for opera and ballet lovers with six (Yes, six!) State Opera and Ballet Companies with their associated Orchestras – Ankara; Istanbul; Izmir; Antalya; Mersin and Samsun – all of them are world class. Add to that a venue like the near-perfectly preserved Aspendos amphitheatre with its near-perfect acoustics; a full moon (if you are lucky) and you have the ingredients for a truly magical experience.
Until I came to Turkey I had never been to an opera, I’d listen to and greatly enjoyed stuff on vinyl and later on CD, but the cost and hassle of getting to a performance in the UK had always been too high a hurdle to bother with. J, on the other hand, is a graduate of the London College of Music and as a student could take advantage of all sorts of concessions. In return for getting dressed up in a well pinned brocade curtain, selling programmes and curtsying to the queen for St Cecelia’s (patron saint of musicians) Day at the Royal Albert Hall and being a member of the Student Union, she got free tickets/passes to all sorts of rehearsals and performances.
Back in 2000 J got wind of the Aspendos Festival and we attended a performance of ‘Turandot’. Picture, if you can, the setting and the spectacle. The amphitheatre with its near-perfect curtain wall, with tier upon tier abuzz with people. There are no curtains so the sumptuous set is there, ablaze with colour and glitter as you wait for the start; you feel as if you are sitting in the heart of the set. The orchestra files in, it is the Presidential Orchestra, Turkey’s finest; the lights dim, the music swells and, as the performance begins, the full moon rises above the curtain wall.
two shots from Turandot in 2008
That first real taste of a real opera had me hooked. Imagine, the Presidential Orchestra, a cast so huge it took the combined Ankara, Istanbul and Izmir State Opera companies to fill it. A cast so great that at the curtain call there wasn’t enough space on the stage and many had to stand in the auditorium. Even the stage hands and set-changers were dressed as Chinese coolies!
We’ve been back most years since that first visit, sometimes J goes several times in a season. Even though this year prices have almost doubled, where else can you get opera of this quality in such a setting with a full moon thrown in for just 40TL (about £14)? Unless you have been there it is almost impossible to grasp the grandeur and majesty of the setting and performance.
Anyway, back to our recent visit; this year has seen a number of performances by foreign companies. In the case of Madam Butterfly it was the Beijing National Opera, and what a performance it was with soprano Shen Na in the lead role. She is the epitome of the perfect ‘Butterfly’ – delicately beautiful with a voice that had the audience enchanted. The duet between her and ‘Suzuki’ was about as perfect as it gets. J was enthralled and commented that ‘even their vibrato was in sync!’ I’m just a country bumpkin and wouldn’t have a clue about such technicalities. Full marks go to the Samsun State Opera and Ballet Orchestra and to the entertaining and spirited ‘performance’ of Conductor Yu Feng – there were many moments when his passionate involvement melded wonderfully with the action on the stage.
I’ve tried hard to find some video of Shen Na singing without success so a photo extracted from a Chinese newspaper will have to suffice. Meanwhile the season continues with ‘SwanLake’ on 10th Sept and Tannhäuser on 15th Sept – go on, get yourself down there – even without Shen Na and a full moon it’s still a magical experience. Meanwhile a few photos from the night . .
the ‘wedding’ (Pinkerton, you unmitigated bastard)
after everyone rejects her, Pinkerton promises eternal love (ha, ha)
Pinkerton’s wife turns up, Butterfly is devastated
her child taken, her love lost, Butterfly prepares for the end
Pinkerton you double-dealing bastard!
thank you, Butterfly – you were magnificent!
Alan Fenn, Okçular Köyü