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That’s what provided the background for the development of a network of music shops in Tbilisi and the manufacture of top quality pianos and grand pianos.

And that’s why Muraviov acted in haste. He knew opera lovers could not endure long without spiritual nourishment and arranged, with the support of the authorities, for the arrival of Russian singers from various cities of Russia. A new repertoire of exclusively Russian arias was speedily worked out and performances – launched again. But they seemed totally oblivious to the fact that music was all there in Tbilisi, Casta Diva pounding from Maydan, scales and trills, fiorituras and flats filling the air throughout.

The Russian opera provoked a distinctly unfavourable reaction in Tbilisi. The discerning audience who had become accustomed to relishing the charms of Italian opera could not come to terms with the strictly homogenous repertoire forcefully imposed on them. Rumblings of discontent posed a looming threat of riot. lt was of course unlikely that Italian opera could really start a riot but fear always makes molehills from mountains (especially within the ranks of government), so a decision was made to damp down passionate sentiments by taking back Italian conductors and singers. Italian operas were restored. Tickets became again a scarce commodity. This first glimmer of success infused the Georgian public with great enthusiasm and the regained chance of encounter with genuine art brought an acute awareness of an occupied homeland. Increasingly frequent use of the word ‘freedom” in Tbilisi entailed a heightened level of censorship. Rules for those seeking entry into the opera house were toughened. Students of gymnasia and non-classical schools were banned from the stalls and even from the uppermost tier. But hot hearts thumped in the chests of not only young people. Aware of this fact, the governor-general tasked the mechanic Bocharnikov with installing secret microphones in the theatre hall so that he could eavesdrop on all conversations whether on the stage or in the stalls. For putting in place this unprecedented technology Bocharnikov was paid an astronomical sum – 139 roubles and 72 kopecks, which was more a payment for keeping silent. When A Bocharnikov mentally converted this sum to its equivalent in bottles of vodka and wine he was struck dumb with joy – fleetingly, though. When Georgian aristocrats feasting in the Europe Restaurant in Mushtaid Garden called gallon-drunk Bocharnikov to order, the latter reacted with dismay calling them fools. To substantiate his point, Bocharnikov even disclosed details of the secret device. It was where and when mechanic Bocharnikov could no longer rely on the governor general’s powers of patronage. News of the eavesdropping technology was leaked to the press. Alexandre Orbeliani was filled with indignation because he knew Russians could not be expected to build an opera house for disinterested reasons but nobody believed him then. But indeed, it was Russians who built the opera house and for a definite goal. The goal, however, was not attained and Russians hammered out a particularly barbaric but simple solution: They burned the opera house. lt took place in 1874. Russian authorities burned the Tbilisi Italian Opera – one of the most fantastic buildings in the world, which instilled in Georgians feelings other than those Russians hoped to instill. That’s the reason they burned it. An official version of events is that fire broke out accidentally in merchant Lazarev’s store and it took just minutes for flames to engulf the entire building. Well, it can be a coincidence that the governor general departed for Borjomi just a day before the fire, but the fact that a huge pool of water in front of the opera building appeared to be completely empty on that ill-fated evening is a highly improbable coincidence. lt also seems doubtful that firemen could not reach the place of the incident for sixteen hours. ln the meantime, everyone in Tbilisi, people of all ages and from all walks of life, toiled long hours, dragging buckets of water from the Mtkvari to extinguish the blaze of fire. lt is not perhaps accidental that Yablochkin, chief of the fire prevention service was, rather than arrested, awarded a prize. The only person brought to justice was the storekeeper, who kept on insisting during the trial that his store had been deliberately set ablaze by his rivals. He hadn’t the faintest idea, however, that the fire was in fact engineered in St. Petersburg’s magnanimous palace, not in any shop standing nearby. The Hre was engineered and carried off flawlessly. The building was burned beyond any hope of repair. Tears were to no avail. But Tbilisians stood and wept tears of grief, because deeply in their subconscious they knew they had lost again their homeland, which (incidentally) closely resembles tire: if you don’t fan its flames, it will simply die…

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