Leblebiji Hor-Hor Agha

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Tuesday, December 14, 2004


Pasadena, California - It may have been written in 1875, but that did not stop AGBU Ardavazt Theatre Company (ATC) and Lark Musical Society from recreating Dikran Tchouhadjian's third and widely-acclaimed operetta, "Leblebiji Hor-Hor Agha".

About 7,000 people attended the colorful comic operetta, performed in Armenian with English super titles on October 22, 23, and 24th at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium in Pasadena, CA. The operetta was originally written and performed in Turkish to avoid the censor's scrutiny, and weaves a fanciful yarn of love and farce, telling the story of an old chick-pea vendor and his reluctance to let his daughter marry the rich man of her dreams. Frequently staged in Europe, the ATC production in October marked the first time the operetta was performed in the United States. Tchouhadjian (1837-1898), who is considered the father of Armenian opera, was the first composer to bridge the gap between the musical arts of the East and West, recreating the classical European forms by introducing the melos of Middle Eastern music.

Krikor Satamian, ATC's artistic director, was determined to keep the passion of Tchouhadjian's timeless and ingenious work alive. In 2003, Satamian teamed up with maestro Vatche Barsoumian, the founder and director of the Lark Musical Society and the Lark Conservatory, and vowed to stage all four of Tchouhadjian's operettas to save them from obsolescence. The talented duo successfully staged the operetta "Zvart" in 2003 and received glowing reviews.

Bringing "Leblebiji Hor-Hor Agha" to the U.S. in 2004, albeit 129 years since it was first performed in Constantinople, was the next logical step.

"If we had waited another ten years, we risked losing this historical and artistic treasure forever. We felt we were sitting on a goldmine and worked passionately to resurrect it by making it accessible to both Armenian and non-Armenian music and art lovers everywhere," commented Krikor Satamian.

It's no small feat recreating a chef d'oeuvre, not to mention one that was originally written in old Turkish dialect. The pre-production also included several trips to Turkey and Armenia to find lost pieces from the original manuscript. At the time the operetta premiered in Turkey in 1875, people had the time to enjoy a 4-hour performance. Satamian had to shorten the text by about 1 hour to reflect the fact that today, most people don't have the luxury of spending that much time watching a performance. The production included about 75 choral group members, 15 actors, and 12 dancers, 10 backstage volunteers, not to mention a 47-piece orchestra.

The operetta was solely produced by members of the L.A. Armenian community. All of the actors, the choral group and dancers hail from the L.A. area.

"We saved Tchouhadjian from extinction, and in the process rejuvenated and inspired the L.A. Armenian community," added Satamian.

What's next for the tireless and very talented Satamian-Barsoumian team?

They plan to recreate the two Tchouhadjian operettas that have yet to be translated ("Zimere" and "Arifin Hillesi"), but that's not the only project that has their attention these days. April 2006 marks the 100th anniversary of AGBU and they are thinking about staging an operetta about Armenian history to commemorate the milestone.

Founded in 1979, the AGBU Ardavazt Theater Company (ATC) is the only full time Armenian theater company serving the L.A. community. The ATC was named after Ardavazt II, king of Armenia during the first century B.C. Ardavazt was considered a champion and supporter of theater arts. ATC serves other Armenian communities by taking productions on tour to cities such as Boston, New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Montreal and Toronto. For more information about AGBU and its cultural programs, visit AGBU online at http://www.agbu.org.