Tbilisi Opera and Ballet Theatre

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Coordinates: 41°42′4.7″N 44°47′46.2″E / 41.701306°N 44.796167°E / 41.701306; 44.796167

The Zakaria Paliashvili
Tbilisi Opera and Ballet Theatre
თბილისის ოპერისა
და ბალეტის თეატრი
Tbilisi Opera and Ballet Theatre at night.jpg
Theatre at night
Former names The Tiflis Imperial Theatre
General information
Type Performance venue
Architectural style Moorish Revival
Address 25 Shota Rustaveli Ave.
Town or city Tbilisi, Georgia
Named for Zakaria Paliashvili (1937)
Groundbreaking 15 April 1847
Opening 12 April 1851
Inaugurated 9 November 1851
Renovated 1896 (after 1874 fire)
Owner Municipality of Tbilisi
Design and construction
Architect Giovanni Scudieri (original), Viktor Schröter (rebuild)

The Tbilisi Opera and Ballet Theatre (Georgian: თბილისის ზაქარია ფალიაშვილის სახელობის ოპერისა და ბალეტის სახელმწიფო აკადემიური თეატრი, The Zakaria Paliashvili Tbilisi State Academic Theatre of Opera and Ballet) is situated on Freedom Square in the center of Tbilisi, Georgia.

The theatre has hosted opera stars such as Montserrat Caballé[1] and José Carreras. It was the venue for the gala concert in celebration of the inauguration of President of Georgia Mikheil Saakashvili and has held many ballet performances.

Originally constructed in 1851, the theatre became an important heart of the cultural life of the country. It was the first opera theatre in all Transcaucasia, holding 700 spectators, and notable by its façade and interior, comparable to European theatres of the time.

Foundation of the Theatre[edit]

The original theatre, c. 1870

The foundation of the Tbilisi State Academic Theatre of Opera and Ballet was the consequence of the political and cultural processes in the country after its annexation by the Russian Empire in 1801. The Chief Governor of the Caucasus, appointed in Georgia in 1844, the general, field marshal and diplomat Mikhail Vorontsov, established many cultural enterprises.

Amongst the most important was introduction of interest in opera. The first opera performance was on 20 September 1845. Performances took place twice a week, and mainly comprised vaudevilles and comedies. Vorontsov also invited artists from the Russian imperial theatres. Later, some performances were also given in the Georgian language.

On the initiative of Vorontsov, the theatre site was chosen on Rustaveli Avenue in Erivan Square, an area he envisioned would be the center of the city. He was correct, as Erivan Square eventually became the heart of the city of Tiflis (renamed Tbilisi in 1936). The land was given free of charge from the governor of the Tiflis Governorate, provided the theatre would belong to the city.[2]

The foundations of The Tiflis Imperial Theatre were laid down on 15 April 1847. Italian architect Giovanni Scudieri, who had come to Tiflis from Odessa, was hired to oversee the project. The construction was completed in 1851.[2]

The interior of the theatre was decorated by a Parisian designer, using colored velvet, gold and silver details, and expensive silks. A massive chandelier weighing 1,218 kilograms (2,685 lb), unassembled in 12 large boxes, was shipped by a steamer from Marseille to Kulevi on the Black Sea coast. Buffalo pulled the chandelier more than 300 kilometres (190 mi) to Tiflis.[2]

Russian painter Grigory Gagarin created the artwork for the theatre. Vorontsov appointed writer Vladimir Sollogub as the theatre's first director.

Opening and the first performances[edit]

Grand opening, 12 April 1851

On 12 April 1851, the theatre held its grand opening, attended by the high society of Tiflis. As the theatre stage was not yet complete, the theatre instead held a masked ball and charity fundraiser for the Saint Nino Women's College.

Several months later in the popular Parisian newspaper, L'Illustration (issue 25 October 1851) printed a large article by Edmond de Bares with two pictures of the interior of the theatre. The author wrote, "This is the only theatre in the city, the interior of which is totally Moorish in style, and is doubtless one of the most elegant, beautiful and fascinating theatrical constructions, conceived by man."[2]

In the spring of 1851, the theatre director invited an Italian opera troupe, which had been touring the Russian Empire under the conductorship of Francisco Asenjo Barbieri, to perform in Tiflis. The Italians traveled by carriage from Novocherkassk, but became ill and exhausted as they made their way into the Caucasus Mountains. By the time they reached Stavropol in southern Russia, they had lost all patience and refused to continue to Tiflis. Finally they resumed, pausing often to rest as they traveled via the Georgian Military Highway, before arriving in Tiflis on 9 October 1851.[2]

One month later, the first theatrical season officially opened in Tiflis with Lucia di Lammermoor by Gaetano Donizetti. After the spectacle, which had a great success, the hosts led Barbieri and the company to the left bank of the Kura River for a public feast, where people celebrated on boats for the whole night.

The Italians performed 12 different opera performances over the course of three months. As a consequence the orchestra was enriched with new instruments and musical scores. Foreign orchestra performers came to Tiflis and some settled there.[2]

Fire and reconstruction[edit]

Theatre following the devastating 1874 fire

On 11 October 1874, a fire began before a performance of Vincenzo Bellini's Norma. Though the fire brigade was across the street, the firefighters did not respond at first and did not bring ladders when they did, leading to outrage and accusations of the fire being intentional. The theatre was completely destroyed, including the rich musical library, costumes, scenery, props and all of Gagarin's paintings.[2]

Plans were made to rebuild the opera house. The theatre decided to continue its season from the "Summer Theatre", and returned 27 December with its production of Norma.

The city held a contest for a new architectural design. Viktor Schröter, an architect of German origin from Saint Petersburg, submitted the winning design. Construction of the new theatre took years to get underway. There were repeated delays throughout the project, with the design not officially approved by Governor Grand Duke Michael Nikolaevich until 1880. Even after the construction began, it would sometimes come to a complete halt.[2]

The theatre finally reopened in 1896.

20th century[edit]

In 1937, the theatre was renamed in honour of Zakaria Paliashvili, one of Georgia's greatest composers.

Unrest and destabilization in Georgia in the 1990s affected Tbilisi opera theater, as it did many others in the country. The government could not provide sufficient resources for theater to function: this prevented the creation of new scenery or costumes, the recruitment of artists, and maintenance of the already vulnerable building. Following the Rose Revolution, however, the newly elected government improved the situation in opera as part of its cultural reforms.

See also[edit]