If the recent disasters kept you from flying up for the San Francisco Opera‘s Arshak II, count your blessings. Aside from the questionable circumstance of an outside group buying its way onto a tax-supported stage -- the well-heeled Armenian community nationwide, which pungled up a seven-figure sum to persuade the departing general manager, Lotfi Mansouri, to stage this opera of dubious provenance -- the other question must also be asked: Confronted with this piece of tepid Italianate factory-made note-spinning from 1868, without even any Armenian identity in its music, who could have seen the work as stage-worthy for one of this country’s most distinguished companies? If this is the bundle Mansouri left on his successor‘s doorstep, he needs to answer to Sanitation.
The composer, Tigran Chukhadjian, composed the opera as Arsace II, to an Italian libretto; its central figure is, indeed, Armenia’s fourth-century tyrant leader, and the plot concerns his overthrow. In 1998 a Chukhadjian research center in Paris got Mansouri to commission an Armenian translation of the original Italian, an act comparable, say, to translating Verdi‘s Nabucco into Babylonian. This new translation is the commodity touted as a “world premiere” by the San Francisco Opera. (There is, actually, another Armenian-language version, created by Soviet Armenians and still performed in Yerevan and other cities; it turns the villain Arshak into a Stalinesque superhero.)
That’s more than you want to know, I‘ll bet, about ArsaceArshak II, except to note that 1868, the year of its composition, was also the year of Boris Godunov. Priorities?