First Azerbaijani opera diva Shovkat Mammadova

First Azerbaijani opera diva Shovkat Mammadova

In August, Gabala hosted the 10th International Festival of classic, jazz and mugham music. The founder of Azerbaijani opera art is composer Uzeyir Hajibeyov, who wrote the opera "Leyli and Majnun" in 1907 based on Fuzuli's poem of the same name, and later the operetta "Arshin Mal Alan". Moreover, he played a certain role in the career of the first female opera singer of Azerbaijan, Shovkat Mammadova. This short story is about her.

Shovkat Mammadova is an outstanding Azerbaijani artist, whose name will forever remain in the world opera history. The future first female opera singer of Azerbaijan, People's Artist of the USSR was born on April 18, 1897 in Tiflis. The Mammadovs were low-class family, but her father, a shoemaker, spared no effort and money to develop the musical talents of his daughter. A teacher was found for a six-year-old child, then the relatives bought her a piano. So, a year later she entered a music school. At the age of 13, Shovkat successfully made her debut at a banquet organised by the vice-regent of the Caucasus, Count Illarion Vorontsov-Dashkov. The first ovations inspired her to continue studies in the Milan Conservatory.

A sponsor was found in Baku - the girl was supported by the famous Azerbaijani philanthropist Haji Nagiyev and his wife Sona. However, their sponsorship was discontinued for undisclosed reasons,  and the 14-year-old Shovket remained in Italy without a penny. After coming back to Baku, she desperately sought money to return to the world capital of the opera. The way out was offered by Uzeyir Hajibeyov, who decided to organize a concert and thus raise funds for the studying of a gifted artist.

On April 13, 1912, the hall of the Taghiyev Theater was full. The curtain opened, and the audience gasped in disbelief when they saw the girl in a white dress in a European manner. It was a bold act - for the first time in the history of Azerbaijan, a Muslim woman appeared on the stage with an open face. The Turkish Consul in Baku stood up demonstratively and left the hall. In a wile,  the clear voice of Shovkat was blacked out by the murmuring of spectators. The concert was disrupted. The situation began to get out of control. Hajibeyov and his friends wrapped the embarrassed singer in a veil, took her out of the theater and hid in the house of Dr. Akhundov.

The fund-raising plan failed. The collected 1500 rubles were taken by the frenzied public. Shovkat once again was left without money. At night, in strictest secrecy, she got to the station in Balajari and took the train to Tiflis. All the way unhappy Shovkat was crying, but she did not give up.

She returned to Milan and Baku with her head high. She was applauded in Moscow, Leningrad, Paris, Tabriz and Tbilisi, she was loved and respected at home. For more than a quarter of a century she was a soloist in the Azerbaijan State Academic Opera and Ballet Theater. She was an active public figure and brought up a whole galaxy of outstanding vocalists.

‘The first swallow’ of the Azerbaijani opera passed away on June 8, 1981. She was buried at the Alley of Honor in Baku.