Abay State Opera and Ballet Theater

Almaty, Kazakhstan | C.1941

Photo Credit: Daniel Walton

Built to house the new and burgeoning opera scene in Kazakhstan, Evegeny Brusilovsky – the father of Kazakh opera – founded and directed The Abay State Opera and Ballet Theater.  The Theater’s namesake originates from the famous Kazakh folk hero, Abay Qunanbaiuly.  Both Brusilovsky and Abay are featured on postage stamps in Kazakhstan.

In 1933, the Leningrad Union of Composers sent a young Brusilovsky to the Kazakh city of Almaty to study folk music. He devoted his life to collecting and recording Kazakh folk songs, which became the basis for his opera compositions. His opera, Kyz-Zhibek, is a Romeo and Juliet story set within the history, landscape, and soundscape of Kazakhstan. Its debut in 1936, along with his other works, are considered the birth of Kazakh Opera and remain beloved classics today.

Fittingly, Brusilevsky chose to name his theater after Kazakhstan’s most beloved literary figure. Before Abay, most Kazakh poetry and folklore was oral tradition. Abay recorded folk tales, translated numerous European classics into Kazakh, immersed himself in ideas from around the world, and used his poetry and prose to sculpt the canon of Kazakh literature.

Though the theater’s program now includes ballet performances and opera favorites such as Swan Lake and Carmen, Kazakh operas are still regularly performed, including one about the literary figure himself, simply titled, Abay.

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