YEREVAN (RFE/RL, Opera Wire) — Amid continuing angry protests against the sacking of the acclaimed Armenian-American director of Armenia’s national opera theater, the government pledged to at least delay the appointment of his successor on Monday.
Constantine Orbelian, a San Francisco-born conductor and pianist, was named as artistic director of the Alexander Spendiarian National Opera and Ballet Theater in Yerevan in 2016 and became its director general as well a year later. He is widely credited with breathing a new life into one of the country’s most important cultural institutions chronically underfunded by successive post-Soviet governments.
Acting Culture Minister Nazeni Gharibian dismissed Orbelian as chief executive on Thursday, March 28, saying that he is not legally allowed to combine the two leadership positions. She also argued that the 62-year-old US citizen is not fluent in Armenian.
Orbelian rejected the decision as illegal and said he will challenge it in court. Most actors and musicians of the state-run theater also condemned his dismissal, demanding that Gharibian be sacked instead.
In an unprecedented protest, many of them walked on stage just before a ballet performance on Sunday to voice their indignation in front of hundreds of spectators. They threatened to go on strike if Orbelian is not reinstated. The audience responded with applause.
Scores of other artists, among them the directors of other state-run theaters, voiced support for the protesting staff by signing an open letter to Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan.