The “Alisher Navoi State Academic Bolshoi Theatre” by its official name, is the main opera house of Tashkent and one of the most famous buildings of Soviet era Uzbekistan. The theater is named after the 15th century Uzbek poet, Alisher Navoi who is well known for his lyrical legacy, many of which have since been adapted to the stage.
The need for a large theater in Tashkent became apparent in the early 20th century when existing facilities proved insufficient following nationalization of the existing Russian and Uzbek musical theater troupes after the Russian Revolution. An architectural design contest was announced, and widely advertised across the Soviet Union, with selection of the winning design awarded to Honored Architect of the Soviet Union Alexey Shchusev, already well known for Lenin’s mausoleum on Red Square in Moscow.
The construction of the theater began in 1939, but was interrupted in 1942 due to ongoing difficulties associated with the Great Patriotic War. After a two year delay, construction resumed, with the added help of Japanese prisoners of war during its final phase. The Navoi Theater was finally completed in 1948 after nine years of on-again off-again construction.
The unique architecture of the theater is one of the earliest examples of the monumental architectural style known as “Stalinist Empire” which combines elements of Baroque, Napoleonic, Classicism, Art Deco, and Neo-Gothic. In the Navoi Theater, each of the six lobbies have a unique style corresponding to the architectural features of each region of Uzbekistan; Tashkent, Bukhara, Korezm, Samarkand, Ferghana, and Termez.
The main theater has a capacity for 1,400 on two levels. Classically decorated, with a large chandelier typical of the Stalinist Empire style, the elaborate ceiling is reminiscent of the interior dome of the Tilla-Kori Madrassah in Samarkand. The walls around the main stage feature traditional geometric design, and strategically centered directly above the stage is the seal of the republic of Uzbekistan, placed following extensive renovations and refurbishment from 2012 to 2015. In a sign of international cooperation and reconciliation, the grand re-opening was attended by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Today the State Academic Bolshoi Theater of Uzbekistan features a full repertoire of operatic and ballet theater productions. Seasonal performances such as Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker” and regularly scheduled repertoire feature Verdi’s “Aida” and “Rigoletto”, Puccini’s “La Boheme” and “Madame Butterfly”, Chaikovsky’s “Eugene Onegin”, and Bizet’s “Carmen”, just to name a few. The cast of these productions represent the best of Uzbekistan, and while the budget may not allow for fancy sets or lighting effects, these artists pour their heart and soul into every performance.
While audience etiquette may be our primary complaint when going to the theater here in Uzbekistan, there is a strong residual appreciation for the arts in this country, and a noticeable growing interest. There aren’t too many places in the world you can go the opera in a capital city and get the best seats in the house for $5.00, but Tashkent is one of them.