Saturday, May 25, 2013

Birth of Siranoush - May 25, 1857

Siranoush is regarded as the most famous actress in the history of Armenian theater. She was a brilliant interpreter of tragedies and operettas. She was a daring, proud, and persistent woman in real life, but she knew how to be delicate and emotional on the stage. Her theatrical fame perhaps helped the name Siranoush (a combination of the words ser “love” and anoush “sweet”) become a common one among Armenian women born in the twentieth century.

She was born Merobe Kantarjian in Constantinople. She was one of four cousins who became actresses. Azniv Hrachia (1853-1920) and Siranoush had a long and very fecund life, but Asdghik (1852-1884), Siranoush’ s sister, and Marie Nevart (1853-1885) died very early. At a time when few women dared to go on the stage, and men still played female roles, Siranoush entered the world of theater at the age of eight performing for Tovmas Fasulajian’s group. She appeared once again in 1867 with Bedros Maghakian’s group, and finally made her professional debut at the age of 16 with the same group in the play “Pierre of Arezzo.” She studied singing with Dikran Chuhajian, the famous opera composer, and later with Italian musicologist Carlo Nicosias, to whom she was briefly married from 883 and 1887. In 1875 she joined Hagop Vartovian’s group, where she interpreted various operettas. She played in Tiflis from 1879-1881 and 1891-1892.
She was the first and most celebrated Ophelia in Armenian theater, as she played that role opposing an equally famous Hamlet, Bedros Atamian (1849-1891), in the first performance of William Shakespeare’s play on November 20, 1881 in Tiflis. She was also equally celebrated as the first Armenian actress who played the role of Hamlet—the same as French world-famous actress Sarah Bernhardt and others before her—in 1901, again in Tiflis. Her Hamlet was so convincing, that only her voice of coloratura soprano reminded the audience that a woman was talking about the eternal dilemma of being or not being.

She acted for long periods of time in Constantinople, with frequent presentations in Greece, Bulgaria, and Egypt, with different groups, as well as her own group. In 1897 she returned to the Caucasus and played for a long time in Baku, which was the main center of Armenian theater between 1897 and 1901. She also played in many places in the Caucasus, from Yerevan to Nakhichevan-on-Don (Rostov), and Central Asia. The best Armenian actors from Tiflis, headed by two luminaries like Hovhannes Abelian and Siranoush, performed in Moscow and St. Petersburg in 1912, where Siranush was compared to world famous Italian actress Eleonora Duse.

Siranoush performed some 300 roles. Among the most famous, besides Ophelia and Hamlet, were Marguerite Gautier (Alexander Dumas Jr.’s The Lady of the Camellias), Teresa (Luigi Camoletti’s Sister Therese), Ruzan (Muratsan’s Ruzan), Jeanne d’Arc and Mary Steward (Friedrich Schiller’s Joan d’Arc), Medea (Alexei Suvorin’s and Viktor Burenin’s Medea), Portia (Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice), Princess (Levon Shant’s The Ancient Gods), Margarit (Gabriel Sundukian’s Spouses), etc.Some of her roles, such as Ophelia, Marguerite Gautier, Medea, and others, became masterpieces of Armenian acting. Her sensitive and deeply felt performing was most appreciated by her contemporaries.

Siranoush toured Iran between 1918 and 1921, and returned to the Caucasus, where she gave her last performance in 1922. Afterwards, she left for Constantinople to join her daughter, who lived there. She finally settled in Cairo (Egypt), where she performed her signature role of Marguerite Gautier in 1932, at the age of 75. She died on June 10, 1932 on her way home from the theater. She is buried in the Armenian cemetery of Cairo.