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Managers of the Tbilisi Opera Theatre were well-versed in advertising business. They enlisted the services of a certain Abela, whose surname did not go down in history. Abela was the tallest man in Tbilisi in the second half of the 19 th century and his rise to fame was due to his extraordinary height. Abela figures in a novel by Armenian artist Bashinjaghianz. Ilia Chavchavadze describes him as the tallest man in Tbilisi walking on wooden stilts in the streets and yelling at the top of his voice the name of a forthcoming opera. The sight of Abela could most frequently be encountered in overcrowded squares. Standing on stilts he was always surrounded by a growing mob of children. By eyewitness accounts, Abela was the man who could be addressed for any kind of information on anything or anyone in Tbilisi. Unconfirmed oral reports even say that It was long and leggy Abela who tracked down in Cambiajo’s Studio the photo of the legendary military figure Giuseppe Garibaldi gracing the wall of llia Chavchavadze’s study (on |lia’s request). Nothing happens by chance, and it was perhaps far from incidental that Ilia Chavchavadze took such a close interest in the personality and portrait of Giuseppe Garibaldi, who was then at the helm of the italian National Liberation Movement. Nor could it have been accidental that Garibaldi had an overpowering lust for opera. There wer e cases in ltaly when Italians (falling under the spell of Nabucco’s opera) felt the urge to goto the battlefield directly from the Opera House. Russians were quick to get a whiff of dangerous tendencies in the Tbilisi Opera Theatre as well. That Georgians were under the “malignant” influence of Italian opera was not difficult to perceive: on 17 October 1867 Georgian gymnasium students went so far as to fly national flags right in the stalls of the theatre. The fury this incident triggered from the governor general ofthe Caucasus, Prince Bariatinsky, leading to tough sanctions against the theatre’s leadership, centred allegedly on the fact that gymnasium students did not enjoy access to the Opera. But it was only a pretext. The actual reason behind such fury was the Tbilisi Opera Theatre reawakening, rather than choking off as was initially intended, national sentiments among Georgians. Russians realized their mistake and to correct it they decided to drive off Italian and Georgian singers and adapt the Tbilisi theatre exclusively to a Russian repertoire. The measure affected female singers much more deeply. They even complained to Director Muraviov that with no prospect of marriage they felt even more hopelessly trapped. Male singers appeared to be in a less vulnerable position. Blota and Tolle opened flower shops, Joseph Villa started a hat-sewing workshop in the vicinity of Tamamshev’s caravanserai (it was perhaps on the stalls of this shop that airdrome-shaped hats later appeared). Director Myraviov seemed totally unresponsive – he just followed instructions. Conductors too were sacked. The process of creating a Russian troupe with a strictly Russian repertoire was put quickly underway – quickly, because demand for opera and classical music was enormously high in Tbilisi. Kavkaz newspaper ran: “there is hardly any family in Tbilisi not in possession of a piano or a grand piano; there is hardly any mother in Tbilisi not obsessed with trying to give her children a good musical education”…

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