Opera stars rain on Istanbul in 2017

Opera stars rain on Istanbul in 2017

Joshua Bruce Allen
January 05, 2017

Although it may just be a date on the calendar, many of us see the New Year as a chance for better things in the months ahead. The saying is “start as you mean to go on,” and for that reason Zorlu PSM is starting with an unforgettable display of opera: “New Year, New Hopes”. With world-class soloists coming from six countries to perform works by master composers, this will be a delight for opera aficionados and newcomers alike.

Prof. Dr. Yekta Kara is heading the concert’s artistic direction, having previously acted as head director of the State Opera and Ballet General Directorate and artistic director of the International Istanbul Opera Festival. Speaking of the “new hopes” in the concert title, she told The Guide Istanbul, “Normally we wish each other health, happiness, and success, but now we also need to meet on the common ground of peace and compassion. They’re very important for our country, for the world, for all of us. And without doubt the best medium to convey this peace and compassion is music.”

Talent from four continents

Jelena KordicBringing this universal message to the fore are the seven young soloists from Canada, Lithuania, Turkey, Croatia, South Africa, and Greece. Prof. Dr. Kara stands against the preconception that opera is only performed or enjoyed by people of a certain type. “The criteria in opera now are very different. Above all ninety percent of opera artists now are quite young, and their physical features come to the fore. We wanted to show that. People have world-class careers in their twenties nowadays,” she says.

Identifying a few top stars of the concert, Kara says, “Maria Lobanova is an amazing spinto, meaning young dramatic soprano. She’s from Lithuania, but at the moment she’s at a very important opera group in Moscow, the Bolshoi Theater. I saw Maria at a Wagner competition where I was a member of the jury. I couldn’t believe my ears – what a marvelous voice.” One up-and-coming Turkish star of the concert is Gürkan Gider, for whom Kara sees a celestial future. “When he entered the Siemens Opera Competition last year he was only 23 years old. Normally at that age he should be a student, and actually he graduated this year. It’s very exciting for me, someone of that age being so talented. He took the second prize in that competition. Now he is going to the Salzburg State Theater in the spring,” she explains. Both Gider and the Turkish soprano Burcu Hancı are making their Istanbul debut at this concert.

And just as anyone can perform opera, so Prof. Dr. Kara believes that opera should be staged for everyone. “You can stage opera wherever you want, even in a park. But it is for everyone, without reference to age, language, religion, or race … It isn’t just for people who have reached a certain income level. If that were the case then opera would really be finished. If an art form can continue for four centuries then that certainly shows that it deserves its place.”

A fine tradition in Turkey

Accompanying the singers is the Bosphorus Sinfonietta, headed by Italian conductor Antonio Pirolli. A native of Rome and resident of Ankara for thirty years, Pirolli has formerly acted as general musical director of both the Istanbul State Opera and Ballet and the Ankara State Opera and Ballet. This concert will be a display of the orchestra’s range and ability, with a program covering the greats: Mozart, Rossini, Bizet, Tchaikovsky, Verdi, Wagner, and more.

Although Italy and Italian are the birthplace and language of opera, Pirolli stresses the art’s importance in Turkey. “Some operatic works, such as Aida, had their world premiere in the Ottoman Empire. Especially in its later period, the Ottoman Empire showed a great interest in Western and classical music. But Turkey became really acquainted with opera after Atatürk … Between the 1930s and 1950s, no opera singer could start a career without passing through Ankara. A lot of global names, starting with Pavarotti and on to conductors and directors, definitely spent time in the Turkish opera.”

As Pirolli and Kara explain, a number of Ottoman sultans received Western musical training and also wrote their own compositions. Composer Giuseppe Donizetti, brother of the opera composer Gaetano Donizetti, came to Istanbul to teach the Ottoman princes and compose official marches for the sultans.

The role of preserving this tradition and carrying it into the future requires hard work and investment, Pirolli declares. “Actually there is a lot of interest in opera in Turkey. But opera needs constant financial and cultural support. To put on a high-quality production, to work with good conductors, good directors, good vocalists, is an expensive business. If the state removes its finances, then opera experiences great hardships and the quality also drops.”

Zorlu PSM’s opera program continues with special screenings of Royal Opera House performances throughout 2017.