Selman Ada’s Operas
A musical genius, Selman Ada displays an incredible spectrum of creativity in his operas and other works.
With its demanding complexity, opera is a special peak of creativity. Over the last 25 years the composer, conductor, and pianist Selman Ada has led a revolution in Turkish opera, despite financial and administrative difficulties.
- Life is words in action, literature is action in words.
- Humans are about to destroy their spaceship Earth. Some of them are aware of this and they try to change the course of events. Will they succeed? Will more humans be alarmed and do something?
- Literature is vital and translators are messengers of world peace.
- Though I shall focus on the literary scene in Turkey and its problems regarding freedom of expression, I shall not omit the other parts of our planet. Today local is global and vice versa.
- Tarık Günersel is a poet, playwright, aphorist, librettist and short story writer. He is the president of PEN Turkey and an ex-member of the PEN International Board. He studied English Literature at Istanbul University. A self-exile after the military coup in 1980, he spent four years in Saudi Arabia with his wife Füsun and their daughter Barış, teaching English. A dramaturg at Istanbul City Theater since 1991, he has acted on stage and screen and directed some of his plays. He proposed World Poetry Day in 1997 which was accepted by PEN International and declared by UNESCO as the 21st of March. His translations into Turkish include works by Samuel Beckett, Vaclav Havel and Arthur Miller. His works include The Nightmare of a Labyrinth (mosaic of poems and stories), and How’s your slavery goin’? His Oluşmak (To Become), a “life guide for myself,” includes ideas from world wisdom of the past four millennia. He has recently initiated the Earth Civilization Project with the support of several intellectuals from various parts of the planet.
At the age of 10, Ada was selected by a committee of leading musicians and sent to Paris as a prodigy on a government scholarship. We were both 15 in 1968, when he read my poems, played some of his works on the piano, and said: “I want to compose operas. You should write the libretti.”
In 1987, back in Istanbul from France, he invited me to start. His wife Caroline said: “How about Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves?” We joyfully accepted. The tale was known world-wide and the cave was a good chance to create a stage. “My first opera must be appealing to those who are suspicious of this all-embracing art,” Ada resolved.
Ali Baba & 40
At Caroline’s suggestion, Ali Baba & 40 was the first production Ada and I worked on together. A humorous fantasy, it became the most popular opera in Turkey, and was initially directed by Murat Göksu in Ankara in 1991. In 2012 it became the first Turkish opera to be translated and staged abroad: Ali Baba und die 40 Räuber was produced by Wuppertaler Bühnen in Germany thanks to director Johannes Weigand, who creatively translated it with the dramaturg Ulrike Olbricht.
Blue Dot (Mavi Nokta)
Our second work was Blue Dot (1993), an oratorio that begins with the Big Bang. An African creation myth, a love song for Halley’s comet, Dark Planet’s hateful attack on love, post-nuclear disaster, and the loneliness of Jesus in a cathedral are just some of the other parts. After various productions in Turkey, the Istanbul Opera performed Blue Dot in Münich in 2003. It’s still possible to listen to one of the opera’s arias, featuring the character Pharoah Cheops, who doubts his immortality and the value of his words.
Forbidden Love (Aşk-ı Memnu)
Forbidden Love (2002) is based on Halid Ziya’s romantic novel Aşk-ı Memnu, published in 1900. As in the novel, our protagonist is Adnan Bey, but in addition to the extramarital love affair that leads to his young wife Bihter’s suicide, we emphasized the dictatorship of Abdülhamid II, who was the Ottoman Sultan in the early 20th century. Izmir Opera performed it in Spain thanks to the help of Artistic Director and soprano Aytül Büyüksaraç. If you wish, you can listen to Mademoiselle de Courton’s aria, sung by Evrim Keskin, here. Mademoiselle is Adnan Bey’s lover but in this scene she has sadly “decided” to leave Istanbul and go back to Paris. Her aria is sung in French and in the traditional Turkish style.
I am happy to say that the Canadian opera director David Walsh has Forbidden Love on his agenda.
Ada’s new opera Zeus@BaşkaGezegen.com is for six singers, with neither a chorus nor dancers. The story features an imprisoned scientist, his daughter Leila, the President of a global fascist regime, Zeus, Hera, and Fool. The few survivors on Earth try to take refuge on another planet, where they meet Zeus, Hera, and a Fool. Another Planet (or AP) starts as a futuristic fantasy but turns into a realistic present-day situation when a policeman arrests the dissident scientist.
Against all Odds
Creative people keep struggling all over the world. As a musical genius, Selman Ada is among the great composers in world history, but his position in the real world is no different from that of any other artist. In Turkey opera tickets are sold at a reduced price to make them available to lower-income audience members. Unfortunately, this model results in minimal earnings for the composers and librettists. Though attempts have been made to rent an opera for three years with a lump sum at the beginning of the tenure, this method is still not sufficient. Nevertheless, the incredible spectrum and refined depth of Ada’s music is beyond words. In a little more than a decade he has built the bridge he initially intended to make back in 1987; many new people love opera because of his work and now the rest of the world is beginning to hear the richness of Ada’s music. Here, between these words and small recordings, I have tried to express an ocean by showing you some water in a small glass.