A scandal rocked the Alexander Spendiaryan Armenian National Academic Theatre of Opera and Ballet in Yerevan yesterday evening when musicians refused to take the stage at a performance of Aram Khachatryan’s Gayaneh ballet.
1,110 ticket holders got their money back for the performance that never happened.
The striking musicians today sent a letter explaining their action to theatre management, the details of which have not yet been publicized.
Karineh Kirakosyan, the acting director of the theatre, held a press conference, but she offered nothing in the way of clarifying what had happened. She only said that a general meeting was convened at the theatre during which Armenian Minister of Culture Armen Amiryan described the incident as shocking, hinting that the troublemakers would be punished.
In a press release, Amiryan called on the striking musicians to rally around Konstantin Orbelyan, the theatre’s artistic director.
Orbelyan had spent his own money to invite art agents to attend yesterday’s performance and had been talking with them about organizing theatre performance tours.
“Someone’s personal problem was rated higher than all of us when it comes to presenting our art to the world. If you regard this as normal, then I understand nothing of this mentality. I regret losing such an opportunity,” Orbelyan said at the meeting.
Minister Amiryan called on the musicians to present their creative and work-related issues to management.
“Together, we’ll try to improve the environment and the theatre system. Voice the most complex of problems, but never undermine a performance,” he said at the meeting.
No one accepted his offer at the meeting. According to a ministry’s press release, members of the ballet troupe were waiting and ready to dance upon hearing the final bell for the curtain to go up.
At her press conference, Kirakosyan chided the artists for behaving so untowardly towards the spectators who purchased tickets.
“All of the artists are now drafting explanations as to why they didn’t show up for work yesterday,” said Kirakosyan, adding that the troublemakers number around 80-90.
Kirakosyan and rumors circulated at the culture ministry point to ten administrative employees at the theatre recently let go as the masterminds of the trouble.
What is surprising is that some ninety musicians refuse to play at such an important performance and theatre management seem unable to grasp that some serious problems are afflicting the theatre, a major cultural asset in Armenia.
Either theatre management has its head in the sand, and are incapable of running such an institution, or they are deliberately covering up the problem. Both are equally bad.
Two days ago, the theatre’s former deputy director Narek Antonyan spoke with Araratnews.am, saying that the dismissed employees asked Orbelyan for an explanation. In response, according to Antonyan, Orbelyan said the decision had been made by higher-ups.
As far as theatre management is concerned, the dismissed employees have conspired to sabotage the theatre and have incited the musicians to join in the sabotage.
This reporter finds such an explanation hard to believe at an institution with 583 employees. There has to be some real underlying issues to convince ninety musicians not to play at such an important performance.
At today’s press conference, Minister Amiryan reaffirmed the official line that yesterday’s incident was pure sabotage.
“It proved the necessity of making changes to the administrative unit as proposed by Maestro Orbelyan and that we support. Only by implementing them will we have the theatre we’ve dreamt about,” the minister said.
Kirakosyan told reporters that three of the five theatre’s deputy directors had been dismissed and replaced.
Asked if Kirakosyan thought that yesterday’s incident had anything to do with her or Orbelyan’s management style or policies, she brushed off such speculation.
“The administrative changes taking place at the theatre have just one aim, to revitalize the theatre and turn it into an active participant in world culture. All the changes, staff and administrative, are painful to some who then burden the entire collective with their problems,” Kirakosyan said.
Hetq spoke to two artists at the theatre. Here’s a summary of what they had to say.
While Maestro Orbelyan is a decent man, he’s totally unaware the artists’ problems, personal relations, and much of what’s transpiring internally. He’s a typical musician mainly concerned with the theatre’s creative development and success. But’s he not aware of the nitty-gritty administrative or organizational issues involved. Karineh Kirakosyan deals with those.
Some say the opera theatre has a curse hanging over it from the days when Hasmik Pohghosyan was culture minister. Karen Dugaryan, the orchestra’s main conductor, left Armenia teary-eyed after being dismissed.
Cursed or not, major problems plague the theatre and yesterday’s boycott was merely a manifestation.
If the culture ministry doesn’t implement improvements in the theatre’s administrative end, the problems will grow and incidents like yesterday’s will continue.
Problems will not be solved by pressure tactics and threats.
If it is true that the musicians are following the call made by now former deputy director Narek Antonyan to boycott, this is really disquieting news for Minister Amiryan. It shows that the authority of those now running the theatre is low and on shaky grounds.
Armenia’s government must make a choice between protecting its own rank and file or saving the opera theatre.
We’re not referring to the building, but rather the artists and musicians inside who for years, regardless of who’s the prime minister or culture minister, have been the true face of the theatre, both in Armenia and on the world stage.
Photos: Gagik Aghbalyan