One of the world’s youngest capitals offers a major new cultural attraction with world-class opera house, Astana Opera. Based on sketches by President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev, Astana Opera officially opened on June 21, 2013 with the performance of a classic Kazakh love story—altered to have a happy ending so audiences could leave the new venue with a smile. “Astana desperately needed a fascinating theater like this.
The concept of the future opera house was created by the president of the country, Nursultan Nazarbayev. During his working trips he used to pay attention to world-famous theaters and opera houses. He created the first sketches of Astana Opera,” Astana Opera’s director, Tolegen Mukhamedzhanov explained.
The first stone of the Astana Opera was laid in 2010. The Swiss Mabetex Group, headed by Behgjet Pacolli, worked with a group of professional architects invited from around the world to create the new arts venue. (Mabetex has built many of the buildings in the new capital city.) The main idea was to strike a balance between a classic Greco-Roman style and Kazakh design traditions. The front of Astana Opera evokes the famous Pantheon, the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow and the Ak Orda palace, the residence of the President of Kazakhstan. As for the rest, this is the first unique architectural miracle, established in Eurasia in recent years.
“The Astana Opera should astound every guest with its scale and its internal and external design,” Mukhamedzhanov said.
The interior design was created by Italian professionals who made all the decorative elements by hand. Entering the crush room, visitors can see a wide range of multi-colored marble in the floor and geometric patterns and traditional Kazakh ornaments woven into motifs on the walls. Wall paintings in the hall depict Kazakhstan’s famous Charyn Canyon, with its ancient rock formations, on one side and the forested Burabay resort, known as Kazakhstan’s Switzerland, on the other.
Great care was also taken with the acoustics. Birch wood, beech and cherry in floors and walls ensure a rich, far-reaching sound. “The voices of artists singing on the stage can reach every corner, every single person sitting in the odeum. That is fantastic!” exclaimed Mukhamedzhanov.
The massive main stage is 400 square meters, with an additional side stage of 768 square meters. Cutting-edge backstage facilities allow scenery to be changed quickly during performances. The odeum holds up to 1,250 people in a 19th century-style setting that recalls the Golden Age of opera.
Some key figures of the opera world have found a home at Astana’s new opera house. One of the best and most honoured contemporary choreographers and directors, Yuri Grigorovich (Russia), is here; famous set designer, director, producer and costume designer, Pier Luigi Pizzi (Italy) and top Italian set designer Ezio Frigerio and Oscar-winning Italian costume-designer Franka Skuarchapino created the costumes and sets for the opening of the venue.
The Astana Opera opening night, with the participation of President Nazarbayev. commemorated the 100th anniversary of Kazakh composer Mukan Tulebaev, and the pearl of Kazakh opera, “Birzhan-Sara,” was staged for the event. Kazakh opera stars Nurzhamal Ussenbayeva and Akhmet Agadi played the main roles in the performance, directed by the Russian director Yury Aleksandrov, who changed the final act of the well-known story to give the venue’s first audience a happy ending.
The beauty of Astana’s newest cultural venue and its stunning acoustics were highly regarded by representatives of the famous La Scala and Royal Opera Houses and the Bolshoi and Mariinsky Theaters. “All of them extended thanks and said it was their pleasure to work with us in such a great opera house, which will hopefully soon be declared as one of the best,” said Mukhamedzhanov.
As for the repertory, the Astana Opera is a completely classical project. Only classic opera masterpieces will take shape on the stage of the opera house. According to the director of Astana Opera, musical experiments and new ways of delivering opera to the public are not what the audience wants to experience here. Instead, the opera house will stage classics like the “Sleeping Beauty” ballet that premiered on July 3. Tickets were sold out a month before the ballet opened.
“It was so beautiful! And the stage is so huge. It was a real pleasure to me to watch the ballet,” Aysuly Kunshugarova, an Astana resident, said about the show. “This is the first time I saw this ballet and I was so exited! The dancers and music were amazing. It has me hooked,” said another spectator, Nataliya Samoilova.
Astana Opera is currently waiting for start of the new season, which will probably be kicked off by Romeo and Juliette, staged by famous French director Charles Jude, recipient of the National Order of the Legion of Honor. Fantastic decorations and magnificent costumes are expected, as world-famous professionals will be involved in creating the spectacle. Citizens and guests of the capital will also have a chance to see a famous Rodin ballet directed by Boris Eifman, a well-known neoclassical choreographer.
Though it has opened already, Astana’s newest showpiece isn’t quite finished yet. Construction work is to be completed by the end of 2013 and the musical instrument collection is to be purchased soon. The new opera house set to open in September.
More information can be found on Astana Opera’s website, http://astanaopera.kz.