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Arshak II Opera

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Arshak II Opera, played in San Francisco in September, 2001. It was a big production, and the Armenian community raised a lot of funds to help the San Francisco opera put it on. Here is a collection of materials from the now defunct website.


Press Releases

American Premier


February 29, 2000

PRESS CONTACT: Elizabeth Connell (415)565-6431 Robert Cable (415)565-6430


Premiere includes six performances of the Armenian work in a new performing edition of its original version to be performed in Armenian for the first time outside of that country

SAN FRANCISCO-General Director Lotfi Mansouri announced today that San Francisco Opera will present the American debut of Armenian composer Tigran Chukhadjian's Arshak II during the 2001/2002 Season at the War Memorial Opera House. The opera will be performed for the first time in the composer's original version and sung in Armenian for six performances, coinciding with the celebrations surrounding the 1700th year anniversary of Armenia's adoption of Christianity. Armenia was the first country to adopt Christianity as a national religion.

"I first heard the rich tradition of Armenian music as a young boy in Persia, where Armenian musicians and artists were also my first exposure to Western classical music, and I am delighted to have the opportunity to bring this unique work by a currently little known composer to Western audiences," said Mansouri. "This opera is full of spectacle, pageantry, political intrigue and betrayal in the grand operatic tradition of Verdi, of whom Chukhadjian was a contemporary and great admirer." He continued, "I believe that San Francisco audiences will find Arshak II a delightful part of the operatic repertoire and I hope to see this work produced by other companies throughout the world."

In association with this project, San Francisco Opera has formed a Cultural Advisory Committee made up of distinguished scholars who are professional authorities on Armenian history, literature, art and culture. This committee will be available to advise the Company in the process of developing its production of the opera. The members of the committee are: Richard Hovannisian, Professor of Armenian and Near Eastern History, University of California, Los Angeles; Lucy Der Manuelian, Professor of Armenian Art and Architecture, Tufts University; Kevork Bardakjian, Professor of Armenian Studies, University of Michigan; James R. Russell, Professor of Armenian Studies, Harvard University; and Dikran Kouymjian, Professor of Armenian Studies, Fresno State University.

In 1997, Gerard Svazlian, a violinist in the San Francisco Opera Orchestra, began exploring the possibility of a production with Mansouri. Mansouri and the Company proceeded to appoint an Arshak II Liaison Committee chaired by Julie Kulhanjian and Denise LaPointe to interface between the Opera, the Armenian Community and the community at large. They are spearheading efforts to prepare and coordinate a rich and exciting collection of activities for the opening weekend, including a gala and other civic and cultural events. David Balabanian, Arshak II Liaison Committee member commented, "With so many operas to choose from, including works by many well-known composers that are never performed, it is remarkable and wonderful that one of the world's leading opera companies has chosen to perform Arshak II."

About the opera: Composed in 1868 to an Italian libretto by the Armenian poet Tovmas R. Terzian (who later published his Italian text along with an Armenian translation), Arshak II is loosely based on historical events in Armenia during the 4th century surrounding the violent struggles waged by King Arshak for national unification during a period of bitter internal revolts and external hostilities with Persia and Byzantium. The opera was not produced during the composer's lifetime because of its large artistic demands and tension with the Turkish authorities, who were unfavorable towards works exploring subjects ofArmenian cultural heritage or history. Fragments of the work were presented in concert in Venice, Paris, Vienna and Constantinople, often in Italian rather than Armenian. It was then forgotten and believed to be lost.

After the music was rediscovered in the 1930's, a completely re-worked opera based loosely on the original materials was prepared by musicologists Alexander Shahverdian and Levon Khodjia-Eynatian in Armenian rather than Italian, using a completely new libretto with various plot and character alterations, authored by the Soviet writer-director Armen Gulakian. This new opera was staged for the first time in Armenia in 1945, and reflected the modernist political viewpoint of the day. The opera gained great popularity in Armenia in the post-war period, and it remains an important part of the repertoire of the Yerevan Opera and Moscow Bolshoi Theaters.

San Francisco Opera's performances will represent the world premiere of the opera in a restoration to its original form as composed by Chukhadjian, with a new performing edition prepared by musicologist Haig Avakian and dramaturg Gerald Papasian.

About the composer: Tigran Chukhadjian (1837-1898) was a composer, conductor and teacher, and is the founder of Armenian opera. Born in Constantinople, he received his musical education at the Milan Conservatory. Greatly influenced by Verdi, Chukhadjian spent his creative life in Constantinople and Armenia, where he was a member of the Armenian Musical Society and published the journal, The Armenian Lyre. He also helped found a local symphony and orchestra. In 1868 he completed Arshak II, his most well known opera, with a libretto by Tommaso R. Terzian. His other operas include the comic work Arif (based on Gogol's comedy The Government Inspector), Kyose Kyokhva (The Balding Elder), and Lelebidj (The Pea Seller), as well as the more serious works Zemire (1880) and Indiana (1897). He also composed a number of orchestral chamber works, and the earliest Armenian piano pieces. Chukhadjian was an important figure in the cultural history of the Near East. He was the first composer to incorporate the special features of Armenian folk music into European musical forms. The Italians called him "il Verdi Armeno," while the Paris press referred to him as "the Eastern Offenbach." He died on February 25, 1898 in Smyrna. [From The New Grove Dictionary of Music]

Performances of Arshak II will take place during the 2001/2002 Season, to be announced in December of this year. Mansouri is currently auditioning singers throughout the United States and Europe for the cast of the opera. An announcement will be made at a later date regarding the production team and complete casting. Subscription sales for the 2001/2002 Season commence in mid-January of 2001, with single ticket sales beginning in August of that same year.

Committe Sets Stage


June 1, 2000

PRESS CONTACT: Beth Broussalian (949) 367-0798


The San Francisco-Based Arshak II Opera Committee Announces Plans for an Elegant Opening Night Gala. The World Premiere and Gala Will Take Place on Saturday, September 8, 2001.

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - The sumptuous, colorful celebrations that distinguished the royal courts of fourth-century Armenia will be the backdrop to an elegant gala celebrating the world premiere of Tigran Chukhadjian's Arshak II by the San Francisco Opera. Slated for Saturday, September 8, 2001, the opening night gala will consist of a pre-performance formal dinner and a post-performance party. San Francisco Opera General Director Lotfi Mansouri will direct the six September performances of the Arshak II opera. The world premiere coincides with the events commemorating the 1700th anniversary of the adoption of Christianity by the Armenian nation.

"We have been working behind the scenes for many months to secure the details of the gala," commented Gala Co-Chair Carol Rustigian. "We are very excited to make this announcement because opening night promises to be an evening to remember. The gala will not only be a celebration equal to the world-renowned status of the San Francisco Opera, it also will be a fundraiser, giving philanthropic meaning to the evening's festivities," Rustigian commented.

"Our gala will bring international dignitaries and distinguished guests from around the world to take part in the world premiere," stated Gala Co-Chair Flora Dunaians. "The Honorary Committee members to date include Congresswoman Anna Eschoo, Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, Assemblywoman Jackie Speer, and San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown. We are encouraging everyone to mark September 8, 2001 on their calendars now," Dunaians concluded.

The Arshak II Opera Committee also announced the launching of its official web site located at Updated news and information on the activities of the Arshak II organizing committee can be found at this site.

In association with this project, the San Francisco Opera has formed a Cultural Advisory Committee comprised of distinguished scholars. They include Dr. Richard G. Hovannisian (University of California, Los Angeles), Dr. Lucy Der Manuelian (Tufts University), Dr. James R. Russell (Harvard University), Dr. Kevork Bardakjian (University of Michigan), and Dr. Dikran Kouymjian (Fresno State University).

The Arshak II Opera Committee has been formed to prepare and coordinate a rich and exciting collection of activities for the opera's opening weekend, including the gala and other civic and cultural events. This project came to life in March 1999, after the Armenian-American community succeeded in raising more than $1 million to help underwrite a portion of the opera's production expenses. For general information, please call (415) 249-9149.

Opera Season announced

RELEASED BY SAN FRANCISCO OPERA: Click Here to See the Original Press Release:

January 9, 2001

PRESS CONTACT: San Francisco Opera


2001/2002 Season includes 11 operas, 89 performances, including world premiere of complete original version of Chukhadjian's Arshak II and new productions of Die Meistersinger and The Merry Widow, with roster of international singers, conductors, directors and designers Donors and subscribers given priority for opening weekend events, which include a Gala Celebration honoring incoming General Director Pamela Rosenberg.

SAN FRANCISCO - Details of San Francisco Opera's 2001/2002 Season were announced this morning at a press conference introducing General Director Designate Pamela Rosenberg. Running September 7, 2001 through July 7, 2002 at the War Memorial Opera House, the season - planned by outgoing General Director Lotfi Mansouri - includes 11 operas with 89 performances. The announcement was made in the Grand Foyer of the Opera House, where Rosenberg, whose appointment as General Director commences August 1, 2001, also unveiled her future artistic initiatives for the Company beginning with the 2002/2003 Season.

The 79th Season opens on Friday, September 7, with a revival of Verdi's Rigoletto, last seen in 1997. Other highlights include the world premiere of the complete original version of Tigran Chukhadjian's Armenian opera Arshak II, new productions of Leh�r's The Merry Widow and Wagner's Die Meistersinger, as well as Jan�cek's Jenufa in a production new to San Francisco Opera. Revivals of Saint-Sa�ns's Samson et Dalila, Puccini's Tosca, Verdi's Falstaff, Bizet's Carmen, Puccini's Madama Butterfly and Handel's Giulio Cesare round off the season. All operas will be performed in the original language with English Supertitles.

Many of San Francisco's favorite artists return to the War Memorial Opera House stage, including sopranos Anna Netrebko and Ruth Ann Swenson; mezzo-sopranos Olga Borodina, Helga Dernesch, Angelika Kirchschlager and Frederica von Stade; countertenor David Daniels; tenors Marcello Giordani, Richard Leech, Frank Lopardo and Jay Hunter Morris; baritones Rodney Gilfry, Franz Grundheber and Bo Skovhus; and bass-baritone James Morris, all led by a distinguished group of conductors, including Music Director Donald Runnicles, Marco Armiliato, Paolo Carignani, Emmanuel Joel, Jiri Kout, Erich Kunzel, Nicholas McGegan, Loris Tjeknavorian and Marcello Viotti.

The 11 operas of the 2001/2002 Season will use a host of directors and designers, including Grischa Asagaroff, Thierry Bosquet, Alison Chitty, John Copley, John Coyne, Ron Daniels, Constance Hoffman, Nicolas Joel, Werner Juerke, Mark Lamos, Hans-Peter Lehmann, Walter Mahoney, Mark McCullough, Thomas J. Munn, John Pascoe, Jean-Pierre Ponnelle, Carrie Robbins, Douglas Schmidt, Michael Stennett, Steven Strawbridge, Jennifer Tipton, Anita Yavich, Michael Yeargan, Paula Williams and Francesca Zambello.

The Operas of the 2001/2002 Season

World Premiere (complete original version)

  • Chukhadjian's Arshak II (Arsace II) (6 performances, Sept. 8-30): San Francisco Opera presents the world premiere of the complete original version of Tigran Chukhadjian's Arshak II. Director Francesca Zambello returns to stage the tale of Armenia's fourth-century warrior king with baritones Christopher Robertson and Anooshah Golesorkhi (in his Company debut) sharing the title role. Soprano Hasmik Papian makes her Company debut as Olimpia, mezzo-sopranos Nora Gubisch and Mzia Nioradze (both making their Company debuts) share the role of Paransema and tenor Gordon Gietz makes his Company debut as Valinace. Conductor Loris Tjeknavorian, who also makes his Company debut, leads the San Francisco Opera Orchestra and Chorus for this production featuring sets by John Coyne, costumes by Anita Yavich and lighting by Mark McCullough, with choreography by Denni Sayers.

New Productions

  • Wagner's Die Meistersinger von N�rnberg (7 performances, Oct. 10-28): Bass-baritone James Morris makes his role debut as Hans Sachs in this new production conducted by Music Director Donald Runnicles. Tenors Jay Hunter Morris and Robert D. Smith (in his Company debut) alternate as Walther von Stolzing, baritone Alfonso Antoniozzi is Beckmesser and sopranos Janice Watson and Elisabeth-Maria Wachutka (in her Company debut) share the role of Eva. Also appearing are bass Ren� Pape as Pogner, mezzo-soprano Susan Quittmeyer as Magdalene and tenor Michael Schade as David. Directed by Hans-Peter Lehmann (in his Company debut), Die Meistersinger features sets by John Coyne, costumes by Walter Mahoney and lighting by Thomas J. Munn.
  • Leh�r's The Merry Widow (12 performances, Nov. 27-Jan. 19): Not seen at San Francisco Opera since 1981, Leh�r's popular operetta returns with a new production directed by Lotfi Mansouri. Sharing the role of Hanna Glawari, the Merry Widow, are sopranos No�mi Nadelmann and Alexandra von der Weth (both in their Company debuts), and mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade. Baritones Rodney Gilfry and Bo Skovhus portray Count Danilo, with mezzo-soprano Angelika Kirchschlager and soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian (in her Company debut) as Valencienne and tenor Gregory Turay as Camille de Rosillon. Featuring a new dialogue script by award-winning playwright Wendy Wasserstein, The Merry Widow will be conducted by Erich Kunzel (making his Company debut) with sets by Michael Yeargan, costumes by Thierry Bosquet and lighting by Jennifer Tipton.

Productions new to San Francisco Opera

  • Jan�cek's Jenufa (7 performances, Nov. 19-Dec. 9): Soprano Janice Watson portrays the title role in this new staging produced in association with The Dallas Opera. Casting includes soprano Elizabeth Connell as Jenufa's stepmother Kostelnicka, renowned mezzo-soprano Helga Dernesch as Grandmother Buryjovka and tenors Anthony Dean Griffey (Mitch in 1998's A Streetcar Named Desire) as Laca Klemen and Jay Hunter Morris as �teva Buryja. Conducted by Jiri Kout, the production will be staged by Francesca Zambello and features sets and costumes by Alison Chitty, lighting by Jennifer Tipton and choreography by Kenneth von Heidecke.

San Francisco Opera Revivals

  • Verdi's Rigoletto (8 performances, Sept. 7-29): San Francisco Opera's season-opening production of Rigoletto features an international cast with baritone Stephan Pyatnychko in the title role, soprano D�sir�e Rancatore (in her Company debut) as Gilda and tenor Frank Lopardo as the Duke of Mantua. Casting for Rigoletto also includes mezzo-soprano Catherine Keen as Maddalena and bass Vitalij Kowaljow (in his Company debut) as Sparafucile. Conducted by Marco Armiliato, the production (last seen in 1997) will be directed by Mark Lamos with sets by Michael Yeargan, costumes by Constance Hoffman and lighting by Mark McCullough.
  • Saint-Sa�ns's Samson et Dalila (8 performances, Sept. 22-Oct. 14): This revival features the return of mezzo-soprano Olga Borodina as the Philistine temptress Dalila. Tenor Sergei Larin is the biblical strongman Samson, with baritone Timothy Noble as the High Priest of Dagon, and basses Ren� Pape (in his Company debut) as the Old Hebrew and Scott Wilde as Abimelech. Conducted by Emmanuel Joel with staging by Nicolas Joel, sets for Samson et Dalila are designed by Douglas Schmidt with costumes by Carrie Robbins and lighting by Thomas J. Munn. The production was most recently seen in 1983.
  • Puccini's Tosca (11 performances, Oct. 23-Jan. 20): Puccini's verismo work returns to San Francisco Opera with sopranos Eva Urbanov� (in her Company debut) and Elizabeth Whitehouse sharing the title role. Conducted by maestros Paolo Carignani (in his Company debut) and Marco Armiliato, the cast also features tenors Richard Leech and Walter Fraccaro as Mario Cavaradossi, and baritone Franz Grundheber and bass-baritone Greer Grimsley (in his Company debut) as Baron Scarpia. Lotfi Mansouri's 1997 production, designed by Thierry Bosquet with lighting by Thomas J. Munn, is a re-creation of the original Armando Agnini designs that opened the Opera House in 1932.
  • Verdi's Falstaff (8 performances, Nov. 1-24): San Francisco Opera's yearlong celebration of Verdi concludes with his final masterpiece, led by Music Director Donald Runnicles. Falstaff features bass-baritone John Del Carlo in the title role and baritone Dwayne Croft (in his Company debut) as Ford. Tenor Paul Groves bows as Fenton with sopranos Nancy Gustafson as Alice and Anna Netrebko as Nannetta, and mezzo-sopranos Elena Zaremba as Dame Quickly and Victoria Livengood (in her Company debut) as Mistress Page. Last seen in 1989, this Jean-Pierre Ponnelle production will be directed by Paula Williams, with sets and costumes by Ponnelle and lighting by Thomas J. Munn.
  • Bizet's Carmen (8 performances, June 8-July 6): One of the most popular operas in the repertoire, Carmen features mezzo-soprano Marina Domashenko in the title role and tenor Marcello Giordani as her lover Don Jos�. Bass Denis Sedov (in his Company debut) and baritone David Okerlund share the role of Escamillo and soprano Nicolle Foland is Mica�la. Conductor Marcello Viotti makes his Company debut in this production (last presented in 1998) directed by Grischa Asagaroff, with sets by Jean-Pierre Ponnelle, costumes by Werner Juerke and lighting by Thomas J. Munn.
  • Giacomo Puccini's Madama Butterfly (8 performances, June 9-July 5): Music Director Donald Runnicles leads the San Francisco Opera Orchestra and Chorus in this revival with soprano Miriam Gauci (Mim� in the 1999-2000 season's La Boh�me) in the title role. Directed by Ron Daniels, Madama Butterfly also features mezzo-soprano Zheng Cao as Butterfly's servant Suzuki, tenor Zoran Todorovich (last seen in Boh�me as Rodolfo) as Lieutenant Pinkerton and baritone David Okerlund as Sharpless. Sets and costumes for this production, originally presented in 1997 and revived in January 1999, are designed by Michael Yeargan with lighting by Steven Strawbridge.
  • Handel's Giulio Cesare (6 performances, June 19-July 7): Countertenor David Daniels (last seen as Nerone in 1998's L'Incoronazione di Poppea) returns to San Francisco Opera in the title role with soprano Ruth Ann Swenson as the Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt. Conductor Nicholas McGegan makes his Company mainstage debut leading a cast that also includes mezzo-sopranos Ruxandra Donose as Sesto and Felicity Palmer as Cornelia, countertenor Bejun Mehta (in his Company debut) as Tolomeo and bass Denis Sedov as Achilla. Last seen in 1982, this production was originally created for English National Opera and is owned by the Metropolitan Opera. It will be directed by John Copley, with sets by John Pascoe, costumes by Michael Stennett and lighting by Thomas J. Munn.


The complete roster of artists returning to San Francisco Opera for the 2001/2002 Season includes sopranos Elizabeth Connell, Nicolle Foland, Miriam Gauci, Nancy Gustafson, Anna Netrebko, Ruth Ann Swenson, Janice Watson and Elizabeth Whitehouse; mezzo-sopranos Olga Borodina, Zhen Cao, Helga Dernesch, Ruxandra Donose, Catherine Keen, Angelika Kirchschlager, Felicity Palmer, Susan Quittmeyer, Frederica von Stade and Elena Zaremba; countertenor David Daniels; tenors Walter Fraccaro, Marcello Giordani, Anthony Dean Griffey, Sergei Larin, Richard Leech, Frank Lopardo, Jay Hunter Morris, Michael Schade, Zoran Todorovich and Gregory Turay; baritones Alfonso Antoniozzi, Rodney Gilfry, Franz Grundheber, Timothy Noble, David Okerlund, Christopher Robertson and Bo Skovhus; bass-baritones John Del Carlo and James Morris; and basses Raymond Aceto, Stephan Pyatnychko, Stanislaw Schwets and Scott Wilde.

Artists who will make San Francisco Opera debuts during the 2001/2002 Season include: sopranos Isabel Bayrakdarian, No�mi Nadelmann, D�sir�e Rancatore, Hasmik Papian, Eva Urbanov�, Alexandra von der Weth and Elisabeth-Maria Wachutka; mezzo-sopranos Nora Gubisch, Victoria Livengood and Mzia Nioradze; countertenor Bejun Mehta; tenors Gordon Gietz, Paul Groves and Robert D. Smith; baritones Dwayne Croft and Anooshah Golesorkhi; bass-baritone Greer Grimsley; and basses Vitalij Kowaljow, Tigran Martirossian, Ayk Martirossian, Ren� Pape and Denis Sedov.

The conducting roster for the 2001/2002 Season includes San Francisco Opera Music Director Donald Runnicles (Die Meistersinger, Falstaff, Madama Butterfly), Marco Armiliato (Rigoletto, Tosca), Paolo Carignani (Tosca), Emmanuel Joel (Samson et Dalila), Jiri Kout (Jenufa), Erich Kunzel (The Merry Widow), Nicholas McGegan (Giulio Cesare), Loris Tjeknavorian (Arshak II) and Marcello Viotti (Carmen).

Productions will be directed by Lotfi Mansouri (The Merry Widow), Grischa Asagaroff (Carmen), John Copley (Giulio Cesare), Ron Daniels (Madama Butterfly), Nicolas Joel (Samson et Dalila), Mark Lamos (Rigoletto), Hans-Peter Lehmann (Die Meistersinger) Paula Williams (Falstaff) and Francesca Zambello (Arshak II, Jenufa).

Opening Weekend Events

Opening night of the 2001/2002 Season on Friday, September 7, will be ushered in with a Gala Celebration at San Francisco City Hall to honor incoming General Director Pamela Rosenberg. San Francisco Opera Guild's annual Opera Ball 2001, co-chaired by Patricia Sprincin and Laurie Chase Dixon, will begin this year with an exclusive cocktail reception and dinner in a tented pavilion adjacent to the Opera House, prior to the season-opening performance of Rigoletto. The night will continue with the post-performance toast to General Director Rosenberg at City Hall, complete with champagne, desserts and dancing.

San Francisco Opera's BRAVO! Club, a group of more than 500 young professionals dedicated to building future opera audiences, will kick off the evening's festivities with their own exclusive dinner and reception. Following the performance of Rigoletto, BRAVO! guests will return to City Hall for the Gala Celebration honoring Rosenberg.

On Sunday, September 9 at 1:30 p.m., the annual "Opera in the Park" concert will be presented free to the public in Sharon Meadow at Golden Gate Park. This popular San Francisco tradition will feature singers from the opening productions of the 2001/2002 Season in concert with the San Francisco Opera Orchestra conducted by Music Director Donald Runnicles. Last year's event-the 27th annual-was attended by more than 20,000 opera lovers who enjoyed picnics on the green during the concert.

Ticket prices and information on the 2001/2002 Season

Subscription prices for San Francisco Opera's 2001/2002 Season range from $120 (Balcony Rear) for a three-opera series to $1,385 (Orchestra) and $1,715 (Box) per person for the full 11-opera subscription. In total, there are 33 subscription packages available, which offer from three to 11 operas throughout the season. Full casting and schedule details are included in the attached calendar of performances. All casting, repertoire and dates are subject to change. For information, please call the San Francisco Opera Box Office at (415) 864-3330, or visit How to Order.

San Francisco Opera is sponsored, in part, by Grants for the Arts/San Francisco Hotel Tax Fund, the California Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts. San Francisco Opera's season sponsors include Bank of America, the official bank of San Francisco Opera, and American Airlines, the official airline of San Francisco Opera. The production of Arshak II is sponsored, in part, by the Friends of Arshak II and by George and Flora Dunaians, Hirair and Anna Hovnanian, Louise Manoogian Simone, Roger A. Strauch and Dr. Julie Kuhanjian; Tosca is made possible, in part, by a generous gift from Mr. and Mrs. J. Burgess Jamieson; Jenufa is made possible, in part, by The Bernard Osher Endowment Fund; The Merry Widow is sponsored, in part, by Arthur Andersen; educational activities associated with the production made possible, in part, by generous support from Koret Foundation; Carmen is made possible, in part, by commitment from The Thomas Tilton Production Fund; and Giulio Cesare is made possible, in part, by The Bernard Osher Endowment Fund.

Arshak II reigns supreme


September 16, 2001

PRESS CONTACT: Beth Broussalian (949) 367-0798


The Debut of the San Francisco Opera's Arshak II Brought the Capacity Crowd of 3,000 to its Feet. More than 500 People Attended The Elegant Gala that Included Pre- and Post-Performance Events.

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - With all the pageantry, spectacle and drama fit for a king, the Arshak II opera debuted on Saturday, September 8, 2001 to a packed San Francisco War Memorial Opera House for its opening night performance. The world premiere of Tigran Chukhadjian's masterpiece brought an audience of 3,000 to its feet, marking the first time that an opera, sung in the Armenian language, has been performed by a world-renowned company. More than 500 guests attended an elegant gala in the War Memorial Veteran's Building, which included a cocktail reception and black-tie dinner prior to the performance, as well as a post-performance celebration.

The two and one-half hour opera, set in fourth-century Armenia, features gripping arias, melodic duet and choral numbers, a compelling plot, and haunting scenes of struggle and death, with spectacular set designs, costuming, and choreography. Armenian conductor Loris Tjeknavorian leads the six-performance run, with an international cast featuring Christopher Robertson and Anooshah Golesorkhi alternating in the title role, and a supporting cast of Armenian, American, Russian, and French singers.

Receiving stunning reviews was soprano Hasmik Papian, from Armenia, who performs the role of Queen Olimpia. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Papian was "the most memorable debutante of the evening," revealing "a potent, vibrantly hued instrument." The Los Angeles Times reported, "Olimpia was entrusted to the most accomplished singer in the cast, Armenian soprano Hasmik Papian, who has the steely gleam and rapt lyricism of a true Verdian."

Francesca Zambello, one of the opera world's most acclaimed directors, directs Arshak II. The San Francisco Opera performs the restored original version prepared by musicologist Haig Avakian and dramaturg Gerald Papasian. "Like everyone else, I was very emotional on opening night. My colleague, Haig Avakian, and I worked for two years to make the scores of the opera performable - it was like seeing the birth of a child. I was very pleased with the entire event; it was beautiful and inspiring. I hope that this is just a beginning - there was an energy that was created and it should continue beyond this opera," commented Papasian, who offers lectures with San Francisco Opera Musical Administrator, Dr. Clifford Cranna, before each Arshak II performance.

"Over 2,600 pages of musical edits and notations were entered into the computer before our two-year effort was completed," added Avakian. "We carefully prepared the vocal and orchestral scores as well as the separate instrumental parts. The result was a fluid, melodious and lyrical opera that, until now, has never been performed as the composer originally intended."

Sharing her impressions of the evening, Arshak II Opera Committee Co-Chair Dr. Julie Kulhanjian Strauch stated, "This evening was a success for many important reasons. First and foremost, the Arshak II production showcased several talented Armenian artists and afforded gifted and beautiful singers like Hasmik Papian an opportunity to shine on an American stage. This has been an extraordinary opportunity to expose San Francisco opera audiences to the Armenian people, our Christian heritage, rich and ancient history, and Armenian language."

Arshak II Opera Committee Co-Chair Denise LaPointe explained, "The furtherance of Armenian art and music to a broader audience is important not only for Armenian Americans, but for all of us. Julie and I hope that in some small, but significant way this production will encourage other opera companies, theatre companies, and dance troupes to champion the rich, vibrant culture of Armenia. The highest accolades are due to the San Francisco Opera and all of the volunteers who made the night possible."

The opening night celebration was highlighted by an elegant gala. Over 500 guests from around the world converged on the War Memorial Veteran's Building, located next to the opera house, for a cocktail reception followed by a formal dinner. A post-performance reception capped off the evening that included a gift presentation to members of the San Francisco Opera.

In attendance were a host of national and international dignitaries as well as local and state officials. The dinner's masters of ceremonies, Dr. Arman Bernardi and Dr. John Poochigian, introduced the gala's distinguished speakers: His Excellency Arman Kirakossian, Ambassador of the Republic of Armenia to the U.S.; The Honorable Nancy Pelosi, U.S. Congresswoman; The Honorable Philip Angelides, California State Treasurer; The Honorable Willie B. Brown, Jr., San Francisco Mayor; Ms. Pamela Rosenberg, San Francisco Opera General Director; and Dr. Clifford Cranna, San Francisco Opera Musical Administrator. Other guests included Armenian Consul General Valery Mkrtoumian; State Senators Don Perata, Charles Poochigian, and Jackie Speier; and State Assemblyman Joseph Simitian.

"I was very delighted to be present at the world premiere of Arshak II, staged for the first time on the American continent. Tigran Chukhadjian's superb music added much to our perception of the events of those times - full of drama and suspense. I would especially like to commend the efforts of all those who so generously donated their time and talent to the success of the event," said Consul General Mkrtoumian.

Archbishop Vatche Hovsepian and Bishop Moushegh Mardirossian delivered the opening prayers. The Arshak II Opera Committee Co-Chairs took to the podium to recognize the event's many donors and to honor their committee members who worked tirelessly to realize the project.

The gala was generously sponsored by Wells Fargo Bank, through the efforts of San Francisco Opera board member and Wells Fargo Vice President Dennis Mooradian. Other gala sponsors included the Abnous-Topalian Family, Noubar and Anna Afeyan, Edward and Eleonore Aslanian, and the Ayvazian-Daghlian Family. Proceeds from the gala will be donated to the Vanadzor Music School in the Lori region of Armenia. Gala hosts were Mrs. Louise Manoogian Simone, Mr. and Mrs. George and Flora Dunaians, Mr. and Mrs. Hirair and Anna Hovnanian, and Mr. Roger Strauch and Dr. Julie Kulhanian Strauch.

"We knew that our many months of work had been realized when we saw our guests enter the gala spellbound by the beauty of the Veteran's Building. Michael Daigian wove his magic with gorgeous floral designs creating the perfect setting for the evening," stated Carol Rustigian, who co-chaired the Gala Committee with Flora Dunaians.

Twenty-five local young volunteers some dressed in Armenian costumes served as hosts and hostesses. Throughout the evening, guests enjoyed wines and brandy flown in from Armenia. A gourmet menu prepared by Patina Catering was enhanced by Armenian delicacies donated by local individuals and Armenian restaurateurs. "Flora and I took great care to ensure that the ambiance was especially regal. However, we can't possibly take all the credit for the success of the evening. Supporting us was a very talented gala committee," said Rustigian.

A full weekend of activities took place in conjunction with the debut of Arshak II. On Thursday, September 6, the San Francisco Opera invited Armenian school children and elderly from around the Bay Area to attend the opera's final dress rehearsal. On Friday the 7th, David and Christine Balabanian hosted a private reception at McCutchen, Doyle, Brown & Enersen, LLP. Attending this special gathering were the gala hosts, international dignitaries, members of the Arshak II Opera Committee, and Arshak II principal artists who performed selections from the opera.

On Sunday, September 9, the San Francisco Opera held its traditional "Opera in the Park" featuring several Arshak II principal singers, including Hasmik Hatsagortian, Anooshah Golesorkhi, Ayk Martirossian, and Tigran Martirossian who sang arias from famous works such as Tosca, Otello, Barber of Seville, and Aleko. More than 37,000 people attended Sunday's outdoor event, which was held in Golden Gate Park's Sharon Meadow and was later broadcast on local classical music stations.

The Arshak II world premiere coincides with events commemorating the 1700th anniversary of the adoption of Christianity by the Armenian nation. A total of six performances of Arshak II will be performed through September 30. Tickets can be obtained by calling the San Francisco Opera Box Office at (415) 864-3330 or logging on to Further information is available on the Arshak II Opera Committee website at

California Courier article

Reprinted from the California Courier

A Tale of Two Operas: the Original And 'Traditional' Versions of Arshak II

By Daphne Abcel

August 24, 2000

PARIS, FRANCE - When the San Francisco Opera Company presents the original version of Dikran Tchouhadjian's opera, Arshak II, during the 2001/2002 season, the event will bring to fruition a long-held dream of Gerald Papasian, actor/director, and many other musicologists who have studied Tchouhadjian's legacy. Its performance will also constitute the final chapter in a tale of two operas that has spanned decades and continents.

As far back as the 1970's, when Papasian was studying theater in Yerevan, he had become aware of the original score of Tchouhadjian's work, which was kept in the archives of the Charents Museum of Literature and Art since the 1930's. In the 1980's, his colleague, Haig Avakian, a musicologist, was able to obtain copies of the hand-written score and take them to Cairo. The two men began the painstaking process of correcting and restoring both the musical score and the libretto.

The story of the composition of Arshak II and its 19th and 20th century presentations is a tangled one. It was composed in 1868, when Tchouhadjian was living in Constantinople. The original libretto was written in Italian by Tovmas Terzian.

Possible reasons it was not performed, and the reason for the Italian libretto was that the use of Armenian on stage was forbidden in Constantinople, Papasian suggested. Many works were performed in Turkish at the time.

"Furthermore, there were no professional Armenian opera singers in Constantinople during that period," Papasian added. "Italian was more accepted as the language of opera and an Italian libretto was likely to attract a larger audience."

After Tchouhadjian's death in Smyrna in 1898, the original opera manuscript was sent from Paris to the Museum of Literature and Art, probably in the 1920's, by his widow.

In 1945, there was a decision to produce a "Soviet" version of the opera.

"And this version," said Papasian, "was totally different from Tchouhadjian's original. The plot was changed, new characters were added. Musical sequences were changed, arias were added. An entire full hour of music was appended to what Tchouhadjian had written, and the character of Arshak was changed from that of a tyrant to a kind of patriotic superhero. Perhaps the composer's original Arshak too closely resembled Stalin."

This version, now known as the "traditional" as opposed to the "original" version was a revision by Alexander Shahverdian and Levon Khodja-Eynatian and based on a new libretto by Armen Goulakian.

Said Papasian, "The 1945 version was definitely the Soviet style of the 1940's. I could never understand why the changes they made were so extensive. I could have understood reorchestration, but they did much more. It is a mystery."

Unbeknownst to Papasian and Avakian, who were working on the restoration of the original Arshak II, in 1997, Girard Svazlian, a violinist in the San Francisco Opera Orchestra, began exploring the possibility of a production of the opera. Svazlian was able to raise $1 million and with the support of the Armenian community and others, the San Francisco Opera Company raised an additional $2 million.

When Papasian heard that the San Francisco Opera Company was planning a production of Arshak II, he made a public statement congratulating them although he did not assume they were interested in the original version of the work.

Dr. Clifford Cranna, a musicologist and music administrator of the San Francisco Opera, confirmed that, at first, the Opera Company had no idea that a restoration of the original version was under way. "When we first got involved, we were not aware of it. Once we saw it, we realized it was a far better piece. We could see what the composer intended. The original version was far superior."

Svazlian, who was familiar with Papasian's work at the Michigan Opera Theatre where he had staged Armen Tigranian's opera Anoush placed a call to Paris to establish the necessary connection and Papasian sent his version of the score. The Opera Company compared the two versions and chose to work with Papasian. One important new decision was made. The opera would be sung not in Italian, but in Armenian.

Said Cranna, "The opera was intended for Armenians. It's exciting to realize that the long frustrated aims of this composer will soon be realized."

Papasian has prepared a "singing text" in Armenian and is currently working on a transcription in the Roman alphabet so that non-Armenian singers can read it.

The premiere in San Francisco is certain to be a major cultural event for the Armenian community and beyond. For Papasian, the thrill will be in witnessing "the living historical importance of the history of the Armenian theater and its music."

An important opera company has taken up this work, and after 132 years, Arshak II will finally be performed.



  • September 8 8:00 pm (Opening Night)
  • September 11 8:00 pm
  • September 16 2:00 pm
  • September 21 8:00 pm
  • September 27 7:30 pm
  • September 30 2:00 pm


For information regarding TICKETS FOR OPENING NIGHT GALA AND PERFORMANCE on September 8th at 8:00 pm, please contact the Arshak II Committee at (415) 249-9149 or email us at: with your address information so that we can mail you invitations to the opening night gala and performance. The information packet will allow you to purchase opening night gala tickets, and also purchase opening night performance tickets (up to the number of Gala tickets you purchase). Reservations must be made by May 20, 2001. ALL OTHER TICKETS:

For information regarding TICKETS FOR OPENING NIGHT PERFORMANCE (without any Gala tickets) OR ALL OTHER PERFORMANCES (September 11 - 30) of Arshak II, please contact San Francisco Opera Box Office directly at (415) 864-3330.

Section Mon.-Thurs.

Fri.-Sun. Premium Orchestra $135

$145 Orchestra $125

$135 Orchestra Rear Sides ** $80

$85 Premium Grand Tier $135

$145 Grand Tier $125

$135 Dress Circle $90

$100 Balcony Circle $80

$85 Balcony Front $55

$60 Balcony Rear $40

$45 Balcony Sides $23

$25 Box Seats $155


    • Supertitles cannot be seen from these seats.

Individual tickets to the above performances (Sept. 11 thru Sept. 30) are not available at this time (see below). The San Francisco Opera processes all Season Subscription orders before Single ticket requests.

MAIL ORDERS: Requests for tickets to individual performances of ARSHAK II will be accepted on the mail order form included in the S.F. Opera Single Ticket Brochure that is mailed out in early July. To have your name added to the mailing list, call the Opera Box Office at (415) 864-3330, Mon. - Fri. 10 am - 6 pm.

BY PHONE, ON LINE OR IN PERSON: Beginning August 13 you can charge your tickets by phone at (415) 864-3330 or online ( You can also purchase your tickets in person at the Opera Box Office, 199 Grove Street, Mon. - Sat. 10 am - 6 pm.

GROUPS: If you have a group of 20 or more persons, please call our Group Sales department at (415) 621-4403.

Committee members

Arshak II Opera Committee Chairs

  • Julie Kulhanjian, Co-Chair
  • Denise LaPointe, Co-Chair

Arshak II Opera Committee

  • Suzanne Abnous
  • Ed and Eleonore Aslanian
  • David Balabanian
  • Beth Broussalian
  • George and Flora Dunaians
  • Shavarsh and Lala Hazarabedian
  • Laurel Karabian
  • Roxanne Makasdjian
  • Sylvia Melikian
  • Teni Melidonian
  • John Poochigian
  • Carol Rustigian
  • Araxie Sarian
  • Gigi Dunaians Young

Arshak II Cultural Advisory Committee

  • Kevork Bardakjian - University of Michigan
  • Lucy Der Manuelian - Tufts University
  • Richard Hovannisian - U.C.L.A.
  • Dikran Kouymjian - Cal State, Fresno
  • James R. Russell - Harvard University

General Director, San Francisco Opera

  • Lotfi Mansouri

Project Founder

  • Gerard Svazlian

Gala Beneficiary

The Arshak II Opera Committee cordially invites you to attend the San Francisco Opera's world premier production and opening night gala of Arshak II. The evening will consist of a Black Tie pre-performance champagne reception and dinner at the War Memorial Building, Veterans Lobby and Green Room, 8 pm performance of Arshak II at the San Francisco War Memorial Opera House, and post-performance reception at War Memorial Building, Green Room.

Proceeds from the Arshak II Gala will benefit the Vanadzor Music School in the Lori Region of the Republic of Armenia. The funds will be used to reconstruct the school, provide new interior furnishings and for an endowment to be used for teacher salaries, scholarships and equipment. The 1988 earthquake that devastated Armenia destroyed many schools; unfortunately, most remain dilapidated and often unstable. Located in Armenia's third largest city, the Vanadzor Music School had an enrollment of 500 children, ages seven to fourteen. Although the building survived, its interior was completely destroyed and the school is seismically unsound. Today, 100 students attend in the evening and practice in temporary lien-to structures outside their former school. Armenia Fund, Inc., a Los Angeles based nonprofit organization, will under take reconstruction of the Vanadzor Music school. The Armenia Fund has completed 172 construction projects in Armenia with a total funding of approximately $72 million. Armenia Fund proposes to rebuild the interior of the school and provide other needed improvements. (Click here for more information and pictures of the Vanadzor Music School Project).

Gala Honorary Chairmen:

  • His Excellency, Robert Kocharian, President of the Republic of Armenia
  • His Holiness Karekin II, Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians
  • His Holiness Aram I, Catholicos of the Holy See of Cilicia

Gala Hosts:

  • Ms. Louise Manoogian Simone
  • Mr. and Mrs. George and Flora Dunaians
  • Mr. and Mrs. Hirair and Anna Hovnanian
  • Mr. Roger Strauch and Dr. Julie Kulhanjian Strauch

Gala Co-Chairs:

  • Mrs. Carol Rustigian
  • Mrs. Flora Dunaians

Honorary Committee:

  • The Honorable Philip Angelides, California State Treasurer
  • The Honorable Barbara Boxer, U.S. Senator, California
  • The Honorable Diane Feinstein, U.S. Senator, California
  • The Honorable Anna Eschoo, Congresswoman, California
  • The Honorable Nancy Pelosi, Congresswoman, California
  • The Honorable John Burton, California State Senator
  • The Honorable Jackie Speier, California State Senator
  • The Honorable Kevin Shelley, California State Assemblyman
  • The Honorable Willie Brown, Mayor of San Francisco
  • Mr. Ara Berberian, opera singer
  • Mr. Gerard Svazlian, project founder and San Francisco Opera violinist

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