O Olmasin, Bu Olsun
(If Not This One, That One)
Composer Uzeyir Hajibeyov (1885-1948) was a multi-talented genius who excelled in depicting the social issues of his day. The musical comedy, "O Olmasin, Bu Olsun" (often called by the name of its protagonist, "Mashadi Ibad") is one of Hajibeyov's finest works in this regard.
In Hajibeyov's earlier work, the opera, "Leyli and Majnun" (1908), the ill-fated young lovers die of broken hearts because social status and feudal custom kept them from marrying each other.
In contrast, Hajibeyov's three musical comedies that followed, "Husband and Wife" (1910), "O Olmasin, Bu Olsun" (1911) and "Arshin Mal Alan" (1913), end with the protagonists marrying the partners of their choice and living "happily ever after". In each story, a comical twist in the plot evolves around the traditional role of the woman's veil in society.
Hajibeyov was always a stalwart supporter of women's rights. At the age of four, he is said to have complained bitterly to his mother about the veil that she had to wear whenever she went out into traditional Muslim society. He felt it hid her pretty face and he was embarrassed to walk beside her. As years passed, his sensitivity to the plight of women only intensified. Hajibeyov deserves to be hailed as one of the most progressive writers of Azerbaijan, given that he wrote many of his works when even women in many Western countries didn't have the right to vote.
Concept of Freedom
For Hajibeyov, clearly the concept of freedom and independence was never more fundamental than in being able to choose one's future partner in life. At the turn of the 20th century in Azerbaijan, parents traditionally made these crucial selections for their children. Youth were not allowed to get involved with these decisions.
No doubt, the fact that Hajibeyov had studied outside of Azerbaijan at Gory Seminary in Tbilisi, Georgia, where he was cut off from the traditional ties of parents, religion and society, caused him to consider options to the traditions of his own society.
His Own Marriage
In 1910, he married Maleyka Teregulova (1893-1966), a young woman he had met in Tbilisi. It seems it was a personal choice that worked out well. A teacher herself, with a strong musical education and a warm, kind, generous spirit similar to his own, she turned out to be an extremely supportive companion for him throughout the 38 years of their marriage.
"O Olmasin, Bu Olsun" is best understood in its historical and geographical context. The first two decades of the 20th century were filled with uncertainty and turbulence. Baku, with its enormous resources of oil, became one of the most vibrant cities of the Russian Empire. Then, as now, the city was full of contradictions. Both capitalist and working-class elements lived side by side, erupting in irreconcilable differences. At the turn of the century, capitalism was undermining the traditional feudal wealth and social status of landowners in the Russian Empire.
In the course of "O Olmasin, Bu Olsun", Hajibeyov also deals with contemporary issues related to religion, the intelligentsia, Pan-Turkism, nationalism, racketeering and servitude.
Hajibeyov's play opens with Rustam Bey, an aristocratic landowner who has become bankrupt. Strapped for cash, he feels that he has no alternative but to do the unthinkable: marry off his lovely daughter, Gulnaz, to a local merchant.
Enter Mashadi Ibad, an uneducated merchant who has recently acquired considerable wealth, but who just happens to be quite old-fashioned and at least 30 years older than the beautiful Gulnaz. Of course, she is horrified at the prospects of this marriage. Besides, she has secretly discovered the person she wants to marry - young, handsome Sarvar.
When Sarvar learns that Gulnaz' father has decided to marry her off to an old wealthy merchant, he doesn't panic but rather contrives a plan to outwit the merchant and legitimize his own marriage plans.
In an amusing twist, it is the veil that serves as his accomplice. When the appointed wedding day arrives, Sarvar covers himself up with the veil. When Mashadi Ibad raises it to get his glimpse at the face of his beautiful bride, he is horrified to discover that instead of "marrying" his fiancée, he has mistakenly married her intended fiancé!
At gunpoint, Sarvar forces the groom to annul the marriage vows to Gulnaz and to marry an old housemaid instead. Mashadi Ibad happily obliges. Thus, the name of the comedy is "If Not This One, That One." Little does the substitution seem to matter to Mashadi Ibad, a widower in search of companionship.
In 1956, the musical comedy "Mashadi Ibad" was adapted for film by director Husein Sayidzade. It is this film version that has made Hajibeyov's comedy so popular beyond the borders of Azerbaijan.
The musical reproduced for this CD is from the only existing audio recording of "O Olmasin, Bu Olsun". It is a radio play produced by the Azerbaijan Radio Choir and Orchestra, originally broadcast in 1953.
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