Derailed by pandemic, Turkey’s State Opera and Ballet plans summer concerts amid normalization
When the coronavirus pandemic made its way into Turkey in mid-March, concert, ballet and opera halls were immediately shuttered, as these indoor venues could have served as petri dishes for possible infections of the rapidly spreading disease.
But now, as weekend lockdowns and stay-at-home orders ended early June and Turkey rolled out its normalization phase, State Opera and Ballet (DOB) administrators have begun to look for ways to restart concerts, taking advantage of the summer weather, where they can organize such events outdoors and the risk of contagion is lower.
But some ballet and opera shows, like the Bodrum Ballet Festival, have been called off, an official of the State Opera and Ballet said, adding that they had to reschedule and rename some other performances for this month.
“We consulted with ballet head choreographers of the six cities. In line with their suggestions, we decided not to hold the Bodrum Ballet Festival. There is no country in the world that has a ballet festival. The art of ballet has stopped in the world. We canceled the ballet and the opera in our festivals called ‘opera and ballet festivals.’ We also canceled our large-scale operas. We have instead planned high quality and enjoyable concerts,” Murat Karahan, a tenor and general manager of the State Opera and Ballet, said at a press conference on July 13.
Within the scope of the Efes Opera and Ballet Festival between July 21 and 28 July, Karahan said that they will organize the “European and Ottoman Palace Music Concert” on July 21, “The Fun Time of The Opera” at the İzmir Fair Open Air Theater on July 26 and “7 Tenors Concert” on July 28.
He said that the 27th International Aspendos Opera and Ballet Festival will be organized between Sept. 5 and 12, the Gala Concert on Sept. 5, “3 Sopranos-3 Bass Concert” on Sept. 9 and Young Opera Stars concert on Sept. 12.
Within the scope of the 11th International Istanbul Opera Festival, “7 Sopranos Concert” can be seen on Sept. 19, “Baroque Night Concert” on Sept. 22, and “Abduction from the Palace” on Sept. 26 and 27, he added.
“All concerts will be held outdoors. In all concerts, only half the capacity will be taken in and a seat will be left empty both in front and behind in a scattered order. When entering, audiences will have to wear masks. But besides all the precautions, everyone must also self-check at their own discretion. It is very important to pay attention to hygiene,” he said.
Karahan said they took cues from their counterparts across the world. “All opera performances in the world were turned into concerts. We won’t have many tours. On small stages, there will be fewer orchestra members. We have taken precautions at the highest level for our artists and audiences. We did not want to leave our audience without art and music.”
He stressed that many ballet and opera shows across the world had been cancelled due to the pandemic.
Fruitful seasons before COVID-19
Speaking about the 2019-2010 art season, Karahan said that the State Opera and Ballet staged 404 shows in 2017-2018 art season, 373 shows in the 2018-2019 season because the Ankara State Opera and Ballet (ADOB) started the season late, and 434 shows between October and February in 2019-2020 art season.
He said that they reached 184,690 viewers in 2017-2018, 192,878 viewers in 2018-2019 and 233,135 viewers between October and February this year.
“In the period of 2019-2020 October-February, we grossed over 6 million Turkish Liras. We had an almost 100 percent increase. This makes us happy. So, we did the right things. There is a noticeable increase in the number of our audience too.”
Karahan noted that during the festivals in 2018, they reached 46,185 viewers in 34 performances and grossed 1.5 million liras, while in 2019 they reached 63,520 viewers in 59 performances and grossed 2.5 million liras.
“This year, we were planning to double these figures. But then cultural activities came to a halt. We started our events slowly with the normalization process,” he added.
Karahan stated that countries such as the U.S., Spain, Russia, Italy and the Netherlands canceled all their performances until January 2021, and that several opera houses in Europe will perform once or twice a month with two-person choreographies.
Stating that the situation is not different in their own opera, he said, “Returning to art in the world is somewhat symbolic and mostly concerts are organized. Some 200-300 people come together for the opera and ballet. There is hair and makeup preparations. People work at close distances.”
“But we followed the world closely. The world is avoiding major opera performances. As DOB, we started our concerts. There was a study on seating arrangement in the conditions of the epidemic carried out by Germany’s leading symphony and philharmonic orchestra managers and Berlin University academics together. We used it as a base,” he said, stressing on details from the study which included extensive measures for artists playing stringed, wind and other instruments.
Stating that they started the Bodrum Kaleiçi Events, organized in collaboration with the General Directorate of Fine Arts and State Theaters, with “The Fun Time of the Opera,” Karahan said that they will perform a minimal version of “The Joint Venture Company of Wonders” without the orchestra, and they will also organize the concerts “Mediterranean Breezes” and the “3 Tenors.”