This Week in Armenian History

Death of Tigran Chukhajian (March 23, 1898)

Dikran Chukhajian was the first author of operas in Armenian reality, and his first opera became famous long after his death.

Chukhajian was born in Constantinople in 1837. He studied at composer Gabriel Yeranian’s class, then followed classes in Milan. Along with other Armenian intellectuals of that period, he fought for the development of national culture, organized musical societies, theatres, schools, papers and free concerts. In 1862 he took over the publication of the Armenian musical journal Haygagan Knar (Armenian Lyre). In his works, Chukhajian used elements of European musical techniques and Oriental music . He was the author of pieces for piano, songs and romances, chamber and symphonic works, and operas. His most successful opera was Leblebiji Hor-Hor Agha (1875), which was premiered at the French Theatre in Constantinople and was so successful that it was performed more than a hundred times in the regular season and every single night during the month of Ramadan. He also composed the operas Zemire (1890) and Indiana (1897).

He created the first Armenian opera, Arshak II (1868, partially staged in 1873), based on the historical figure of the homonymous king of the fourth century A.D. The opera was banned because of its potential political ramifications. Nevertheless, Chukhajian changed some of the scenes and managed to convince impresario Naum to allow the opera to be performed in his theatre by an Italian opera group known as Olimpia. The score, considered lost for a long time, was discovered in 1942 and performed three years later in a revised version at the Armenian Opera Theater in Yerevan. Arshak II has continued to be in the repertoire of the Yerevan Opera Theater. It was staged at the San Francisco Opera in 2001.

Chukhajian is also remembered as the composer of what may have been the first original opera in Turkish, Arif’in Hilesi (Arif’s Deception), based on Nikolai Gogol’s play The Government Inspector.

The prolific Armenian composer died in Smyrna (now Izmir) on March 23, 1898, and was buried in the local Armenian cemetery.