The Establishment and Development of
Azerbaijani Theater Azerbaijani Theatre is closely connected with the
activity, life, festivities, wedding traditions, and outlook of the
people. Ancient traditional ceremonies, such as "Sayachy", "Novruz", and
"Gevsech" encompass theatrical elements such as choruses, dances,
various archetypical characters, and dialogs in dramatic plays. The most
important moment of the ceremony of Novruz, in the game "Kosa-Kosa", is
the pattern of the theatrical plays. The game is characterized by a
plot, dramatic moments, and actors in masks who wear special clothes.
The episodes "Khan-Khan", "Dancing of Mutribs" ("mutrib" means "a boy in
woman's dress"), "The Competition Between the Bride and Mother-In-Law"
and others performed at wedding ceremonies reveal the importance of
elements of games and performance. The elements of a stage theater are
also strong in a widespread ceremony "Yugh", at the meetings of Ozans
and Ashugs, in the scenes of "Zorxana", and in rope-dancers' shows.
Performances, which were present in ceremonies and games, played a great
role in the development of independent national theater. The most
widespread "Kosa-Kosa", "Garavelli", (one of the forms of stage
theater), "Kilimarasy", "Shah Selim" (puppet shows), etc. testify that
the national theater of Azerbaijan developed independently. Some of
these performances were based on a predictable plot and were of
game-like in nature, while others consisted of a satirical repertoire,
reflecting a more mature stage of the national theater of Azerbaijan.
The national theater of Azerbaijan was marked by its realism and
connection with the working masses. The repertoire of the national
theater involved small ethical shows (fars). Such shows as "Kosa-Kosa",
"Tapdiq choban" ("The Foundling Shepherd"), "Tenbel qardash" (" Lazy
Brother", a three-act comedy), etc. were popular amongst the people.
These performances are notable for their optimism. They mainly reflect
everyday life and agriculture. The comedy developed into satire,
criticizing the defects in people's work, life, and psychology.
Under the rule of the Sefevies (in the 16th century), which advocated
Shiism as an official religion, used different methods to influence the
consciousness of the people. In that period, the religious performance "Shabih"
was widespread. This performance, along with the positive influence of
the development of the professional theater of Azerbaijan, also created
conditions for the appearance of a number of actors.
Folklore theater played a great role in the development of the
professional theater of Azerbaijan.
The history of Azerbaijani theater dates back to the staging of "Lenkeran
khanin veziri" (Vezir of Lenkoran Khanate ) and "Hadji Gara" by
M.F.Akhundov in March and April of 1873. These were performed by pupils
of the school of realism with the close participation of N. Vezirov and
A. Adygozelov (Gorani) and were the stimulus for the establishment of
the national theater.
Leading intellectuals of Azerbaijan and teachers later graduating from
the Gory Seminary staged various performances in Shusha, Nakhichevan and
other cities (it is interesting to note that they simultaneously played
a number of roles in each performance). Leading teachers and
intellectuals, led by U.Melik-Hagnazarov arranged shows in clubs and in
Khandemirov's theater in Shusha during summer vacations. They mainly
staged comedies by M.F.Akhundov ("Khyrs-quldurbasan", "Musyo Jirdan ve
dervish Mesteli shah").
Creations by M.F. Akhundov were also performed. The comedies, for
example, were staged in Azeri starting in 1876. The most prominent among
the leading intellectuals were N. Vezirov, the author of a number of
comedies and vaudevilles, B. Badalbeyov, A. Velibeyov, F. Kocherli, H.
Sarydjalinski, Mukhtar Muradov, I. Shefibeyov, the famous singer Djabbar
Qaryaghdyoghlu (Shusha), M. Sidgi, Dj. Mamedguluzade's brother Mirza
Alekper, playwright E. Sultanov (Nakhichevan), R. Efendiyev (Nukha),
etc. From 1870-1880 the amateurs working in different cities of
Azerbaijan gradually gathered around the workers of the Baku theater.
Therefore, Baku theater livened by the late 1880s, in whichled to the
establishment of a permanent theater team. In 1887, the theater team in
Baku was led by H.Mahmudbekov, S.M.Ganizade and N.Veliyev. They
strengthened this team and transformed it into a troupe that started its
career as the staff of an independent theater in 1888.
Since 1890 N.Narimanov made a great contribution to implementation of
the requirements of realism on the stage and to the development of the
theater with sound ideas in Azerbaijan. He regarded the theater as one
of the important means for spreading the leading ideas of the time and
for raising the self-consciousness of people and used the theater as a
tribune for expressing ideas. N.Narimanov attracted the highly
intellectual young people to the theater troupes and at the same time
played principal roles in a number of performances. H.Zerdabi created
the first professional theater troupe "The first Muslim theatrical
troupe" in Baku in 1896. The union of actors was established for the
first time in Baku in 1897.The repertoire of Azerbaijani theater
included the plays of national dramatists as M.F.Akhundov, N.Vezirov,
H.Vezirov, N.Natimanov, A.Haqverdiyev, Dj. Mamedguluzade and ohers and
was also enriched by creations of Russian (N.V.Gogol, I.S.Turgenev,
L.N.Tolstoy and Western European classics (V.Shakespeare, F.Shiller,
H.Heyne, Y.B.Molyer). From its very establishment Azerbaijani theater
adhered to the ideas of democracy and enlightenment. Along with the
comedies of M.F.Akhundov, such plays as "Musibeti Fakhreddin"
("Misfortune of Fakhraddin"), "Avoiding rain, caught in a rainfall by
N.Vezirov, "The ruining house", "An unhappy young", "Agha Mukhamed Shah
Gadjar" by A,Hagverdiyev, "Nadanlig" ("Ignorance"), "Nadir Shah" by
N.Narimanov exposed the traditions of feudalism, despotism and tyranny
The organization of Muslim Theater Actors was established in Baku in
1906. It was led by famous theater worker Dj.Zeynalov. Despite
prosecutions and material difficulties the organization diligently
staged different plays and expanded its repertoire. At that time
theatrical circles and troupes were created in a number of working
districts of Baku ("The theatrical circle of Balakhany", "Zeal"). The
troupe "Zeal" included A.Rzayev, Dj.Hadjinsky, etc, beside its direct
founder M.A.Aliyev. The troupers not only prepared performances but also
attracted the audience.
Due to the lack of means for renting an appropriate establishment, the
performances were shown in a salon "Granvio" of the trade passage. The
play "Ignorance" by N.Narimanov was staged there in 1906. Following the
revolution of 1905, it was permitted to establish a number of
organizations while those operating secretly emerged on the surface.
These included the cultural and educational organization "Nidjat".
Establishment of a theatrical troupe under this organization in 1907
played a great role in the development of the theater of that period.
The professional theatrical troupe, including the professional actors as
H.Arablinski, S.Ruhulla, A.Veli, was created at that time under the
organization "Hidjat" in 1908 and it had its permanent cloakroom and
The trope demonstrated the performances twice or thrice a week at
Taghiyev's theater and in working districts. Such plays as "The unhappy
young man", "Agha Mohamed Shah Gadjar" by A.Hagverdiyev, "Nadir shah",
by N.Narimanov, "Pehlevani-Zemane" by N.Vezirov, "Gaveyi ahengar" by Sh.
Samin, "Runners" by F.Shiller, "Almensur" by N.Neynen, "Othello" by
W.Shakespeare , "A physician" by U.B.Molier, "The inspector", "Wedding"
by N.V.Gogol, "The former wine-maker" occupied the most important place
in the repertoire of Azerbaijani theater at that time.
A new cultural and educational society "Shafa" and a theatrical
department under this society were established in 1910. Yet the
theatrical trope of "Shafa" was weaker compared with "Nidjat". However,
the actors of Nidjat's trope gradually transferred to Shafa".
D.Bunyadzade, poet Samed Mansur, actors Dj. Zeynalov, A.M. Sherifzade
took an active part in the activity of the society and from time to time
actors from Nidjat as H.Arablinski, M.A.Aliyev, S.Ruhulla, H.Sarabski
were invited to take part in the theatrical shows. The troupe of Shafa
not only arranged performances but also dealt with cultural and
educational issues related to the theater. The troupe celebrated the
25th jubilee of Dj.Zeynalov's creative activity in 1911, the 100th
jubilee of M.F.Akhundov in 1911, the fortieth anniversary of N.Vezirov's
theatrical activity. Shafa was characterized not only by performing its
shows in towns and villages of Azerbaijan but also by arranging tours to
other countries (South Caucasus, Central Asia, North Caucasus, in the
cities of Iran, Astrakhan, Kazanda, etc). On the whole, both Nidjat and
Shafa made a great contribution to strengthening of the organization and
creative activity of the Azerbaijani theater.
The staging of masterpiece by U.Hadjibeyov "Leyli and Medjnun" -the
first creation of the national opera in January 1908 (by a new
calendar-January25), laid the foundation of professional musical theater
of Azerbaijan. Within the first year of the establishment of the theater
U'Hadjibeyov's musical comedies created in 1908-1913 "Leyli and Medjnun",
"Sheikh Senan", ":No matter this or that", "Arshyn Mal Alan" dominated
the repertoire of the theater. The following years were marked by
enrichment of theatrical repertoire with such creations of Z.Hadjibeyov
(musical comedies "Ashug Garib", "Young at the age of fifty", "The
Married Bachelor"), M.Magomayev ( "Shah Ismayil", "M.M.Kazinovsky
(musical comedy "Vurhavur"), M.Dj.Amirov (opera "Seyfalmulk")Yet,
despite the absence of its own repertoire the musical theater was in
need of professional performers. Musical performances were mainly
performed by theatrical artists H.Arablinski (director), A.Huseynzade,
A. and Y.Olenskayas, R.Darably, A.Anaply etc along with opera singers
H.Sarabski, M.Mamedov (Bulbul), H.Hadjibababeyov, H.Teregulov,
M.Baghyrov, A.Aghdamsky. Musical and drama theaters were not delimited
and both musical and drama creations were included in the repertoire of
troupes (musical performances dominated in 1910th).
The staging of the comedy "Oluler" ("The deceased") by Dj.Mamedguluzade
in 1916 proved the maturity of the Azerbaijani theater. The play that
stood against ignorance and superstitions, lie and tyranny was a great
success. The union of Muslim Artists was founded in Baku in 1917.
A.M.Sharifzade was elected the chair of the union. The union, uniting
all theatrical troupes, produced performances based on friendship.
Howver, this union survived only up to 1918. The entrepreneurs of
Mayilov theater did not give the actors an opportunity to appear on the
stage. Most of the actors went on tours. Only the trup of U. and
Z.Hadjibeyov brothers operated permanently. The troupe involved the
actors of theater, opera and operetta. The theater of Azerbaijan which
reflected the leading, democratic ideas played a great role in the
cultural development of people. However at that period the theater did
not reached the high level of the scene ethics.