“Arous Voskanian is the admirable actress not only of our stage, but of our entire epoch,” wrote Yeghishe Charents, the foremost Soviet Armenian poet, and he was not wrong. Arous Voskanian was one of the best actresses of the Armenian theater in the first half of the twentieth century.
She was born Arousiag Tarbasian in Constantinople, on April 28 (May 10 in the Gregorian calendar), 1889. Theater attracted her from a young age. She graduated from the elementary section of the Esayan School and then continued her studies at the Saint-Vincent French high school. After graduation, she worked a teacher at the orphanage of the Holy Savior Armenian hospital. However, teaching was not so attractive for her as acting.
The first opportunity came with the arrival of young actor Vahram Papazian. He suggested her to play the role of Emilia in William Shakespeare’s “Othello.” The consequences were not very rewarding: her fiancé broke up with her, and her parents sent her to Bulgaria.
After returning from Bulgaria in 1908, Arousiag Tarbasian watched the performances of the Abelian-Armenian theater group, which came from Tiflis with the lead of two famous actors, Hovhannes Abelian and Armen Armenian. She met Abelian and under his sponsorship, the twenty-year-old young woman left for the Caucasus with the group. She befriended and then married Hovsep Voskanian, one of its actors. They settled in Baku and she adopted the stage name Arous Voskanian.
Between 1909 and 1916, Arous Voskanian was an actress in the Armenian dramatic group of Baku. She also toured the Northern Caucasus, Central Asia, Iran, and other places with the theater groups of Hovhannes Abelian and Siranoush, the leading Armenian actress of the time. In Baku, she met another famous name, the retired actress Azniv Hrachia, who volunteered to become her stage coach.
Arous Voskanian’s next theatrical phase was in Tiflis, where she entered the group of the Armenian Dramatic Society (1917-1921). She played in operettas and melodramas, as well as in classical plays. She was most famous playing the role of femme fatale. She moved to Yerevan in 1921 and became an actress at the Gabriel Sundukian academic theater, where some of her best roles were Amalia (Friedrich Schiller’s “The Brigands”), Rautendelein (Gerhart Hauptmann’s “The Sunken Bell”), Anna (Eugene O’Neill’s “Anna Christie”), as well as Natasha in Shirvanzade’s “Morgan’s Relative” and Anush in Hagop Baronian’s “Brother Balthazar.” Her plays were characterized by heroism, poetic realism, lightness, and subtle humor. She was also a reciter and wrote essays about theater.
Arous Voskanian reached the height of her career in the mid-1930s, with classical roles in various plays of Russian, Armenian, and foreign authors, particularly Shakespeare. She was the first Juliet and Lady Macbeth in the Soviet Armenian stage, and an incomparable Portia and Desdemona in “The Merchant of Venice” and “Othello” respectively. She earned the title of Popular Artist of Soviet Armenia in 1935.
Voskanian passed away on July 20, 1943, from typhus, in Yerevan. A street in the Armenia capital is named after her.