Opera is forbidden in Iran.
For years, Opera has been banned in the country despite palpable progress that saw the opera house open in 2013 for a production of “Gianni Schicchi” and the reopening of the opera house in 2015. There was even an all-women’s production of “Carmen.” But for opera singers who continue to pursue this artform in Iran, it is still a very difficult career choice and one that is uncertain.
Iranian Opera singer Hadi Alibeigli spoke with OperaWire about how he discovered opera and the challenges of a career in Iran.
OperaWire: How did you know you wanted to be an opera singer?
Hadi Alibeigli: I started singing when I was 14. There was only one singing teacher in my city, Gorgan, and he taught rock. So I began covering Freddie Mercury’s songs. But soon I noticed, nothing could enrich me more than opera which was my favorite genre from my very childhood. So I decided to move to Tehran in order to learn classical singing.
OW: Being from Iran, which is a country where Opera is forbidden, how did you discover the artform and how did you get a chance to study it?
HA: When I was six, I accidentally found a CD of different nation’s music, in our bookcase at home. It was an Opera aria album. That is when I discovered opera and became interested in it. But there were not many related works accessible. Later on by the use of internet, it was easier to find these works. There were no universities in Iran which taught classical courses then, and of course there still none.
Learning the craft of opera was only possible through private music institutions. Since we didn’t have singing professors in Iran, I had to start my lessons with some “vocal coaches.” And then I got familiar with Elyar Tahouri, Parma, Italy’s opera singer. I took a one-year course with him and then I traveled to Georgia to take some master classes in different schools in order to improve. I learned so much from its great singers and took courses with Gocha Bejuashvili, Mzia Davitashvili, and Elder Getsadze.
OW: Why is opera forbidden in Iran and is it changing especially as “Carmen” was recently performed in the country?
HA: Like Medieval times in Europe, women singing solo in Iran is forbidden in public. Iran’s rules are written based on Islamic rules. In Islam women’s singing and dancing for men in public is banned and doing so could be inferred as a crime. Therefore opera singing in Iran is not possible.
Although women’s limitations in Iran have decreased during recent years, there is a lot of to be done to guarantee women’s freedoms. Women can sing in Choir Groups, musical theater and can perform in women specific shows. The “Carmen” performance was done as women specific.
OW: How do you view your career as an Iranian opera singer and what are the singers in the country doing to help bring this artform there?
HA: I’m still developing in this field and there is a long way to go. But after working around the world, I would like to go back to my country in order to help establish this artform there. Even though there are limitations in my country, classical singers in Iran have been doing truly well during recent years. Every year there are several musical Performances and recitals of classical songs performed and many Choir Groups are working in numerous cities of Iran. I hope this can help jumpstart opera in Iran.
OW: What do you enjoy most about performing?
HA: The best part of performing is to bring out all your personal feelings relating to the work. It gives a well known piece a different effect, emotion and interpretation. We can put our own stamp on the piece.
OW: What are some of your dream roles and what do you hope to get out of this career?
HA: I have always dreamt of performing the role of the Conte di Luna in Verdi’s “Il Trovatore.” But I would also love to perform the roles of Figaro in “Il Barbiere di Siviglia,” Rodrigo in “Don Carlo,” “Macbeth,” and Iago in Otello.”
If you’d asked me this question years ago, I would have told you that my dream was to perform among the greats of this art in the best opera houses in the world. But what I want right now is to enjoy what I do and try to do that work as well as possible. I want to bring people deep inner calm because at this very moment, I believe that people need love and elegance more than any other thing.
Of course I cannot deny that I’ve never had a specific goal.