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Producer of “Arshin Mal Alan” Michael Schnack gives interview to AzerTAc
Baku, September 5 (AzerTAc). On September 7, in connection with the celebration of the 100th anniversary of Uzeyir Hajibeyov`s world-known “Arshin Mal Alan” (The Cloth Peddler), the operetta, performed by an all American team and produced by famous director Michael Schnack will be premiered in Los Angeles. The event is organized by the Consulate General of Azerbaijan with support from the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan Republic. Before the premiere, Mr Schnack agreed to give AzerTAc an exclusive interview.
Mr Schnack, thank you for the opportunity for an interview. You are a conductor, singer, a pianist, composer, teacher, stage director, an award-winning producer, and apparently, an expert in the area. What brought you to the study of world of music and when did you realize you wanted to become a professional musician? Is there a specific event you would recall?
Dear Mr. Babanli, it`s a pleasure to speak with you. Thank you for inviting me for an interview. To answer your first question: I cannot recall a pivotal early encounter with music. I just knew from an early age that I wanted to be a musician, specifically a theater musician. Playing piano was very important to my identity as a child. I loved to sight-read. I would come home from school and play prima vista for hours -- old standards, classical pieces, and musical theater tunes. I was also very interested in foreign languages, and this certainly fueled my love for world music.
Production of an international, and moreover, a traditional piece of art of a distant country may seem difficult to many people. Has studying, producing and directing an Azerbaijani operetta such as Arshin Mal Alan cause any cultural challenges? How hard was it to understand a different Azerbaijani culture, and Azerbaijani traditions at the time and eventually direct it?
Because the U.S. is such a young country, I think we Americans have a different approach to tradition, especially in an artistic sense. Azerbaijan and other countries with centuries of tradition -- often passed down specifically through imitation of master artists -- view traditional works as nearly sacrosanct. Americans expect each generation to interpret traditional works in new, original ways. Both approaches stem from a feeling of reverence, of cherishing works of the past, but the expressions are totally different. My team and I have approached “Arshin mal alan” with great respect, but our artistic goal is to show the audience how we -- as contemporary Americans -- react to and interact with this great piece of art, interpreting it through the lens of our experiences.
Azerbaijan is where East meets West. Arshin Mal Alan has already been premiered in many countries, travelling as far east as Beijing. How does it feel to be the producer of this piece of art in the most distant Western city of Los Angeles, thus completing the East-West cultural link, specifically on the 100th anniversary of Uzeyir Hajibeyov`s masterpiece?
It is such an honor to be involved with this project. I directed the performances of the piece in Vienna several years ago, and it is a wonderful experience to return to the piece again with a totally different conception. In Vienna we had a very mixed international cast. Here in L.A., we are all Americans, which gives the piece a certain continuity. We are incorporating more dancing this time, which makes several scenes much more poetic and emotional. Also, the piece has a totally different feeling in English than it had in German -- it is less formal, and the dialogues are funnier.
Frankly speaking, if you were Asker, would you have acted the same way to find happiness and indirectly, facilitate four happy-endings as it happened in Arshin Mal Alan?
I`m not sure that I would have been so daring as to follow my friend's suggestion and break the rules of tradition. I am a very conservative person when it comes to hierarchies! An operetta featuring me as a lead character would certainly not become popular enough to still be going strong after 100 years.