Opera has returned to Turkmenistan after nearly 19 years of being banned along with ballet by the Central Asian country's first post-Soviet president as "incompatible with Turkmen mentality."
Nineteenth-century Italian composer Ruggero Leoncavallo's opera Pagliacci (Clowns) was performed on November 19 in a packed state-run theater in the capital, Ashgabat, as part of a cultural exchange program between Italy and Turkmenistan.
Only one Italian played a main role in the two-act opera that weaves a dramatic tale of love and betrayal.
Turkmen singers played the other major roles.
Baritone Amangeldi Amanov was one of them. The last time he played the lead role, Canio, was in March 2001, which was also the last time opera was performed in the city of 1 million.
In an apparent attempt to protect Turkmen culture, gas-rich Turkmenistan's first leader, Sapurmurat Niyazov, banned opera as well as foreign ballet in 2001.
His successor, Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, who was his personal dentist, extended the ban on art forms after Niyazov's death in 2006.
Turkmenistan is described by rights groups as having one of the most closed societies and oppressive governments in the world, with all aspects of public life controlled by Berdymukhammedov and his associates.