Monday, November 17, 2008

The Henrik Malyan Theater’s presentation of William Saroyan’s Stories on a Train continues to amaze and delight audiences, as tonight’s crowd literally spilled into the lobby of the Cinema House, waiting for the actors to emerge from the dressing room, to congratulate, talk with, and have their pictures taken with the quite fine actors. We heard several times in the lobby how people planned to bring friends and family members to one of the final two performances.

Old Malyan pros Lizza, Christine, Levon, Jhorik, and Araik were excellent, yet newcomer Samvel, from the Baronian Theater troupe, who had the main role, playing both Aram and Keri Khosrov, stole the show, his gestures and facial expressions so much like the men of the Saroyan clan that it seemed he had grown up with them. After seeing three disastrous presentations of Saroyan productions this year, this one was a special treat, a bright light in a sea of mediocre theater currently the rule in Yerevan. My only regret is that the presentation wasn’t taken to Fresno, Los Angeles, and all over Europe for Armenians to see just how Saroyan should be done.

For the third straight night, starting with a book presentation and concert of Hayrik Mouradian’s best known songs, and followed by the Malyan presentation, we were able to take part in Yerevan’s cultural life, tonight’s event being a concert celebrating Barsegh Tumanyan’s fiftieth birthday, in which the great bass sang for nearly two hours, accompanied by the National Academic Theater Orchestra. Tumanyan sang arias by Verdi, Rachmaninoff, Spendiaryan, Gounod, and Rossini. He sang with ease, his voice literally echoing through the hall, bringing the audience to its feet several times during the concert. I remembered the concert last week for dudukist Jivan Gasparan, in which both Tumanyan and tenor Gegham Grigoryan sang.Tumanyan, in excellent form, sang seemingly without effort, while Grigoryan, currently far from good form, struggled, barely able to force out his still excellent voice. A pity, as in his comparative youth (Grigoryan is about fifty-two), he was considered every bit as good as Pavarotti, replacing him once at La Scalla and continuing there by popular demand.

During intermission, a culture ministry worker told me about her research into a tribe, or small nation, of people in the Dersim province of Turkey, located close to Erzingan, these people known as Zaza. Her interest about the Zazas had increased when a European Armenian had come here, and she had seen him playing Zaza music on a saz. The theory is that this tribe is Armenian, and that when the Armenians were converting, or being converted, to Christianity, the Zazas refused to accept the new religion, maintaining whatever old religion they were practicing. It is also said that they have many customs peculiar to Armenians. There are caves in the area, our friend told, that the Zazas won’t let anybody but their own people enter, as they say old books and drawings exist that tell their entire history. When asked when they might allow entry into the caves, they say they will when their territory becomes independent. Interesting that the Zazas maintained their old religion, while the Dersim region in general was famous for its large number of churches and monasteries, at least one constructed in the style of Geghard.

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