Conductor Constantine Orbelian

A Response to the Recent Upset at Yerevan’s Opera House in the Armenian Republic


By Michelle Ekizian

Whether the recent grapevine gossip floating around in the Armenian press of the possible dismissal of conductor Constantine Orbelian from his dual post as artistic director and general manager of Yerevan’s Opera House because of skeptical and archaic Soviet era remnant protocols is of rumor mill, malice or ignorance, now is the time for people to come together in support of Orbelian and speak the truth. He does not need to be defended as his history at the Opera House says it all.

A breath of springtime and hope for the institution, Orbelian developed in his opening tenure a new and exciting groundbreaking artistic profile for the Armenian National Opera Ballet Theatre (ANOBT). He has dealt with administration glitches burdened with the stagnant residue of a bygone Soviet era of pro-forma arts management, and is in the process of bringing the Opera House and its administrative work ethic and MO up to date for the 21st century.

The orchestra’s learning curve is also quickening and streamlining, and will soon compare with the disciplined focus of the top international opera houses.

Last year Orbelian introduced the musicians to the music of Giuseppe Verdi—scores, which were not on their somewhat stagnant “playlist” (of old and limited clichéd fare) — and then arranged for them to go on tour with new productions featuring cutting edge design and staging components in the United Arab Emirates (a first in the company’s entire history).

Aside from introducing new repertoire — including numerous classical music iconic blockbusters — a new work ethic, new staging and design concepts, and touring possibilities in the past three years, Orbelian introduced to the company top mainstream international classical music industry pedagogues, acclaimed soloists, stage directors, set designers and administrators. These are collaborations that can help place the Opera House and its Armenian Opera Ballet Theatre on the map among tourism and cultural offerings amidst major music presenters across the world.

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To run an opera house is a lot like running a country. A transparent and visionary leader must be equally matched by pro-active assistants and supporters. Despite the trait that exists amongst the Armenian musicians (and the Armenian people in general) that everyone thinks they are the “concertmaster,” Orbelian has garnered respect and ensemble conviviality from his musicians. He has successfully achieved the cooperation of his music team, and brought the Opera House to unprecedented new heights. Simply put, Orbelian is the best person for the dual job roles at hand.

But the musicianship and leadership capabilities are just one facet of the boundlessly energetic Orbelian as his attendance at this week’s Metropolitan Opera Gala in New York indicates. Not a party animal, but a keen networker, he is on the international high cultural (and society) arts scene to interface with the likes of financial powerhouses, stellar artists, billionaire CEO’s and major global arts funders and advocates in promotion of his progressive agenda for putting the ANOBT on the world map/stage. Through his world beat schmoozing and hustling, his opera ventures go unfathomably beyond the narrow reach of the cloistered and comfort zoned mentality of the Armenian Opera House during its yesteryears. For the record, his far-reaching projects for the Armenian Opera House over the past three years include an incredibly fabulous series of “first time evers.” Under the guidance of Orbelian, the ANOBT has:

  • rented from Moscow’s Stanislavsky Theater its production of Massenet’s “Manon” which was directed by Andres Zagars and starred tenor Liparit Avetisyan for four sold out performances for Armenia’s Francophone Festival,
  • purchased the entire sets and costumes of the children’s ballet “Cippolino” by Karen Khachaturian (Aram’s nephew) from  Bolshoi Theatre for sold out performances,
  • produced a new “Carmen” directed by Naire Stepanyan for a tour to Dubai which opened the inauguration of the Dubai Opera House,
  • staged Mozart’s “Magic Flute” (astoundingly, never performed in Armenia before) in a multimedia production with director Paolo Micciche featuring art work by Henri Rousseau,
  • produced a new  production of Tchouhadjian’s operetta “Garine’”directed by Gerald Papazian,
  • performed the concert production of Verdi’s “Attila” (another repertoire first for the Armenians) with Georgian superstar bass Paata Burchuladze and Hayk Tigranian,
  • brought to the ANOBT stage Renee Fleming (a real coup) with plans of inviting of other vocalist legends to come,
  • and is currently preparing a concert performance of Rossini’s “Viaggio a Reims” (another first time repertoire entry in Armenia) prepared by conductor Mkrtich Babadjanian.

(Michelle Ekizian is a composer creating hybrids of classical, rock, musical theater, opera and Armenian ethnic recastings in richly orchestrated, epic-like settings. For the Interfaith Committee of Remembrance at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, her commissioned Remembrance collection confronts issues of intolerance and survival in the perspective of the human spirit, of which her new musical theatre opera GORKY’S DREAM GARDEN explores the life of the modern painter Arshile Gorky. She is a recipient of a Prix de Rome from the American Academy in Rome, Guggenheim Fellowship, NEA Grant and a Doctorate in Music Composition from Columbia University.)

















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