Friday, October 3, 2008

“Everyone sure seems tense these days at the Conservatory,” a student in musicology said. “First of all, this is the time of year a lot of decisions are being made, and a lot of money is passing from one hand to the other. I won’t go into that. But Armen Smbatyan is back in town, and people are talking about his tie with the apartment building adjoining the Conservatory, and saying that it was paid for by Conservatory funds, with the purpose of serving as a dormitory, but now has been sold, with only people of means living there. And then the article in Azatamtutyun, accusing Smbatyan of everything under the sun, including ruining the Conservatory. What comes of it all, no one knows.”

All this aside, this week was an excellent one for culture in Yerevan, first of all with the Tatevik Hovhannisyan concert early in the week. Hovhannisyan, daughter of Ophelia Hambartsumyan, showed her professionalism, not to mention her good voice, in front of a full house at the Aram Khachatryan hall. Yet, Hovhannisyan occasionally had trouble hitting high notes, and showed an occasional shortage of energy, as the passing years seem to have begun taking a toll on this quite fine jazz singer. Also notable was the extreme ease which Hovhannisyan sang American jazz compared with Armenian songs, the arranging of which she did herself.

As good as this concert was, the cultural highlight of the week for me was the Malyan Theater presentation of several of Saroyan’s short stories, which they titled “Stories in a Train.” Eleven actors sang, danced, and brought the audience to laughter and tears with their acting. Six of the actors were long-time theater members, all with their comical facial expressions and gestures, only to be found in Armenia, and which I saw in the US only in the Saroyan generation of Armenians. Five quite capable newcomers also joined the cast. The story of Uncle Khosrov and the Arab who longed to see his family back home was a highlight, in typical Malyan style with both sadness and humor.

As it was Henrik Malyan’s 100th birthday, the theater was full, with culture ministry officials, actors from other troupes, and others in attendance. After seeing other presentations of works by Saroyan that were less than successful, such as the Metro Theater’s recent production, this was a breath of fresh air, as the actors truly captured what Saroyan was all about.

Afterwards, I found myself shuffled off into the back reception room, where the actors, Malyan’s daughter Narine (director of the troupe), movie head Ruben Gevorgyants, culture vice-minister Davit Muradyan, and friends gathered and began giving toasts, singing, and telling whatever stories they knew about Saroyan and Fresno and, amidst all the noise, even imitating the various hand gestures made famous by the writer and his male relatives, including the famous Uncle Aram, with several of the actors adding that the most important thing to them was to keep the taste, the feel of Saroyan in the presentation. It was a party the great writer would have definitely enjoyed.

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