Arshin Mal Alan (operetta)

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Paris theatrical poster, 1925

Arshin Mal Alan (Azerbaijani: Arşın mal alan) is a 1913 comic and romantic operetta by Azerbaijani composer Uzeyir Hajibeyov about the cloth peddler in the 1900s Shusha, who is looking for a wife. Hajibeyov composed the operetta in Saint Petersburg and it was staged on October 25, 1913. The operetta is rich in national characteristics and realism. Following the staging on Azerbaijan scene, Arshin Mal Alan ventured across the theatres of Tbilisi, Yerevan and Ashgabat, as well as of Iran and Turkey.[1]


The plot is centered on a bachelor man called Asker, who wants to see and choose his bride before marriage. His wife quest, however, is difficult because in that time (in the 19th century) based on traditions women were kept at home and when allowed out they were heavily covered in hijab and because actually you were not allowed to know who you were going to get married with in the 19th century. Asker's friend Suleyman suggests him disguising as a fabric peddler, a sure way to meet women. Asker agrees and starts to go round the houses selling fabrics.

Asker finally meets a woman called Gulchohra and both fall in love with each other, even though Asker's actual identity remains unknown to Gulchohra. Asker ultimately asks Gulchohra's father, the wealthy Sultan bey, for marriage permission, revealing his real activities. Sultan bey agrees, but Gulchohra objects as she can only love the peddler. She eventually learns that the rich businessman is really her beloved peddler.

The story ends with four couples getting married at the same time.

International Staging[edit]

Arshin Mal Alan has been staged in various languages and theaters in over 60 countries, including Vienna, Austria (2006),[2] Beijing, China (2010),[3] and the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion of the Los Angeles Music Center, USA (2013).[4]


Role Voice type
Asker – a young and wealthy merchant Tenor
Jahan – his aunt, a widow Mezzo-soprano
Suleyman – Asker’s friend Baritone
Veli – Asker’s servant Tenor
Sultan beyan impoverished bey Bass (voice type)
Gulchohre – his daughter Soprano
Asia – Sultan bey’s niece Soprano
Telli – Sultan bey’s servant Soprano
The action happens in Azerbaijan at the beginning of the 20th century.

The first act[edit]

Asker, a young and wealthy merchant, is upset. His aunt, Jahan, believes him to be ill, while his malevolent servant, Veli, conceals the reason for his master's “illness”; Suleyman, one of Asker's friends, reveals that it is time for Asker to get married.

But according to islamic tradition, a fiancé cannot see his fiancée before the wedding. Asker would rather marry by love. Suleyman offers to disguise him in the clothes of a peddler (arshin-malchi). Then his access to the houses will be ensured.

The second act[edit]

Gulchohra-the daughter of highborn, but impoverished Sultan bey knows about her father’s intention to find a rich fiancé. But Gulchohra wouldn’t like to marry a stranger, she would like to marry, whom she knows and loves. But the tradition is against that. What to do?

Her father has his own disturbances. Bey is fed up by loneliness, he would like to marry if he find an appropriate widow.

Voices are heard from the outdoor: “Arshin mal alan…”, and arshin malchy appears with commodities. Girls fly to him as birds. They look at the goods, but Asker looks at them. He shoots a glance at Gulchohra. She is that girl, of whom he dreamed. Gulchohra has also charmed by arshin malchy. Young men make a declaration of love when girls go away.

The aunt Jahan goes to Sultan bey as a matchmaker at her nephew’s request. Bey is glad to meet such a charming widow and makes a proposal of marriage to her.

Asker hurries to take the opportunity of this action: he agrees to give his aunt away in marriage to Sultan bey. But in return of that he wants to marry Gulchohra. What?! To give sultan’s daughter away to marriage to arshin malchy?! Arrogant Sultan bey furiously turns them out of the house.

The third act[edit]

Now Suleyman bey comes to Sultan bey. He proposes wealthy Asker bey to Gulchohra as a husband. Sultan bey agrees with joy.

Coming as a matchmaker, Suleyman finds his happiness at Sultan bey’s house-she is Asia, the bey’s niece. Sultan bey has seen her and fell in love. Asia also has liked this gallant young man.

Gulchohra is alarmed. Her father has informed him about the coming wedding. Fond of arshin malchy the girl begged her father to spare. But Sultan bey is unbending. Everything will be as he said! Wishing to avert daughter’s resistance, he has faked Gulchohra’s abduction and sent her to Askar’s house.

The fourth act[edit]

Gulchohra decided to put end to her life frantically, because of the marrying to an unloved man by force. But Asker comes at the moment and explains everything to amazed Gulchohre. Gulchohra is happy. Only Sultan bey knowing that they deceived him becomes angry. The aunt Jahan quickly calms the quick-tempered bey, promising to marry him.

The second couple also becomes happy and pleased.

But Suleyman knowing that Asia also wants to be his wife, declared him as a fiancée ad locum.

But only the servant Veli breathes sorrowfully. What is up? He has an eye on Sulyan bey’s servant Telli. And Telli is ready to marry Veli, she loves this scamp too.

Four weddings are celebrated with a happy feast.

In popular culture[edit]

In 2013, Google created Google Doodle based on this operetta for Azerbaijani version of the site.[5][6]


See also[edit]