Azerbaijan: from first opera in the east to first rock opera

Azerbaijan: from first opera in the east to first rock opera

In late October the Heydar Aliyev Palace hosted premiere of the first Azerbaijani rock opera "The Return of Sinbad". This project was prepared at the request of the Ministry of Culture of Azerbaijan. Author of the first rock opera in musical history of the country, vocalist and composer, representative of the classical vocal school, Rizvan Sadyrkhanov, discussed history of this rock opera's creation in an interview with Vestnik Kavkaza. 

- Premiere of your opera is an event of a huge scale in musical and cultural life of Azerbaijan. Were you satisfied with it?

- I really liked it. I didn't expect that it will turn out to be so good. I canceled this premiere twice - on May 11 and September 28. Cancellations happened due to the fact that there was no organizational progress. In order to prepare something significant, there must be material and technical base to attract people, or someone's willful decision. It was at the point where I was already ready to give up. But I have been waiting for this event for 40 years.

Originally, this rock opera was supposed to last about 22 minutes, and now it lasts 1 hour and 40 minutes. It's completely different now. I wrote a new libretto, included new poems, gave this opera multicultural nature.

- Did you begin writing this opera in Soviet times?

- Yes. My first specialty is engineering, I'm professional driller, worked in oil business at sea, graduated from the Azerbaijan State Oil and Industry University. At the same time, I was studying at the Asaf Zeynalli School. I played the first chords of this rock opera at Rafael Huseynov's home. He became co-author of this rock opera. All parts in Azerbaijani language - introduction and ending - were written based on his poems. Rafael Huseynov is not only statesman, academician, chairman of the cultural commission of the Milli Majlis, he's also a brilliant poet. He's one of the main reasons why this rock opera finally took place. I'm also grateful to the Ministry of Culture, which ordered me official contract to prepare this opera two years ago. But it turned out to be so big and interesting that material support that was originally provided just wasn't enough. For example, there was no hall for rehearsals to prepare for rock opera of such scale. Rafael Huseynov found us a place for rehearsals.

"Sinbad" is not just a multicultural opera, it's also people's opera. Everybody contributed somehow. My friends, including Italians, helped me financially. Most importantly, thanks to this rock opera I can say for sure that we have great people, who work not for the sake of money, but for the sake of idea.

I'm also grateful to the Ministry of Culture for introducing me to director Nijat Kyazimov, who helpted to prepare a unique performance. He's a person with unique thinking, unique vision of the scene, stage settings. We have terrific dance director Jamila Bayramova, People’s Artist of Azerbaijan. Her talent as a choreographer is priceless. We're very grateful to Azerpasha Neymatov, director of the Heydar Aliyev Palace Farhad Salimovich Babayev, who was extremely excited when he heard about the idea of rock opera. Even when I was ready to give up, he said: “You know, Rizvan, it's a matter of honor. We have to finish this thing. If we don’t, then we're just worthless.”

- Why did you decide to complete this rock opera after so many years?

- In 2015, at after one of the concerts at the Kremlin Palace, where premiere of three of my songs was held, we talked about music, and I played and sang one part from this opera. There were members of the government, deputies, musicians, my friends Andrei Dementyev and Iosif Kobzon. Everyone became interested in it. And then Kobzon said: "We can organize this, it's very interesting." But neither Andrei Dementyev, nor Iosif Kobzon lived to this day when this opera premiered...

- Do you plan to show this opera in the Kremlin Palace?

- Artistic director of the Russian "Republic" group, a very interesting person, a brilliant musician and composer, Andrei Pryazhnikov, expressed desire to hold this opera. I hope it will be possible to show this opera not only in Moscow, but also organize a huge tour in Russia.

- Your rock opera has verses of world classics in Azerbaijani, Russian, English, Italian, Czech and even Chinese. How did come up with this idea?

- I sometimes write poetry In Italian, and I studied Chinese in my youth. I became interested in China's history thanks to my uncle, who worked there as an engineer. At 17, he decided to learn this language using dictionaries and self-learning manuals. It was interesting to learn hieroglyphs. It takes a whole lifetime to learn them. Three to four sentences can be written using just one hieroglyph. I studied this language, Chinese songs. I mastered this language thanks to music, wrote songs in Chinese.

Everything we learn will definitely come in handy some day. And when we needed costumes for this opera, my friend suggested contacting the Confucius Institute in Baku. I also asked where I can find interesting Chinese poems for this opera. Then I came home and I thought: "I have the "Confucius Book of Hymns and Songs", which was recognized as the best book of all times in 2015 at the World Congress in Germany, where leading writers gathered. I opened the book and immediately came up with several ideas. I write music almost all the time. If I liked some poems, then I immediately come up with music.

- Why did you decide to create rock opera?

- I equally love rock music, symphonic music, Azerbaijani folk music, any ethnic music. Even if the music is atonal, in other words not harmonized, it's still interesting.

When I was a student, revolutionary rock opera "Jesus Christ Superstar" was released. By the way, after this the Bible became the best-selling book in the world. It other words, after a difficult period of time religion once again became extremely popular thanks to this rock opera. I was interested in it as a music piece. This opera was released here 5-6 months after it was in the West. CDs were sold in Baku, so we spent last money on them. In addition, we also listened to the BBC, Voice of America, Radio Monte Carlo.

By that time I already written quite a few songs, collaborated with outstanding Russian poet Alexei Markov, so I decided to create rock opera myself.

- Why did you choose Sinbad?

- His image is multicultural. This man is "omnivorous": He is always weclomed by Christian, Jew, Buddhist, Muslim, regardless of religious and national identity. At first I didn't know that Chinese man was Sinbad's prototype. For me, he's always been Arab from Baghdad, because I thought there was no indication that he's Chinese.

We began to compose rock opera with my friend Azad Hajiyev. He wrote poems, called me, and then I immediately began to compose music.

Over all these years, I doesn't matter where I worked, what I did, Sinbad was always on my mind. But in order to finish this work in the USSR, you had to be a member of the Composers Union. And now everything is possible. After a concert in Moscow, I accidentally met with our Minister of Culture, spoke about this opera, and an official decision was made, contract was signed.

- Your opera is already called "our response to Broadway." Do you agree with this comparison?

- Of course not. Broadway production costs 10-12 million dollars. Well, it's also shown for the next five years, so millions turn into billion during this time. We have no such thing, we don't have necessary finances. There is a state law on procurement, and operas are a part of it, just in the field of culture. I signed a contract with the Ministry to create this opera, it created conditions, recommended excellent specialists. All of this also requires finances. Choreographic group alone includes about 50 people. So we got a truly united team, real team of Sinbad!

- Over the past years you performed on the same stage as artists like Muslim Magomayev, Iosif Kobzon, Alexander Gradsky...

- In 2002 I was invited to tour with famous musicians in Israel. There I met Iosif Kobzon for the first time. I sang "Doubts" and another song. The next morning I woke up a famous person.

- What do you think about development of vocal art in Azerbaijan?

- I'm optimistic about its future. Even if we take my rock opera for example, 90% of those involved in it are people who I worked with. They say that I played a huge role in their opera and vocal life. The Ministry of Culture feared that there will be problems with vocalists, but I knew all vocalists, their capabilities, so I knew what to expect. Today there's incredible development of opera, jazz, pop culture in Azerbaijan .