Bass-baritone Eldar Aliev, 1971-2020. (source:

The artist and his destiny: the tragic case of Eldar Aliev

Giorgio Koukl | 14 SEP 2020

Near the central railway station of Milan, where all the trains start their journey towards northern Europe, lies a quarter called Precotto. Not a fancy quarter of the Italian capital of fashion with its expensive and elegant stores, but also not an ugly periphery with abandoned industrial graveyards. Just a normal living place for people, working place for many and some green parks for leisure.

Every evening homeless people begin to gather their few things and prepare their plastic covers to pass an another night on the park benches. Some volunteers bring them food, medicine, and from time to time also some extra blankets as it can be bitterly cold in wintertime Milan.

One of them, Eldar, is a seriously sick man. He is still relatively young, but his visits to a nearby hospital are frequent. Passers give him some money. He accepts only two Euro coins, never more. His gentleness is well known, his smile thanks everybody for any kind attention. The Precotto people care about him, they know he has diabetes problems. They know he already spent some time in an intensive care unit. They know also about his stubborn refuse to accept bigger help.

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As his situation worsens the local people gather help and convince him to accept a used motorhome offering a little more shelter than a chilly park bench. But the course of his life is at his end. On the 4th of August 2020 he dies.

Forty nine years before, Eldar Aliev was born in the distant country of Azerbaijan. His youth is full of hardship, but soon it becomes clear that the young boy has an exceptional talent for music. He is allowed to study music in the capital’s conservatory, learns to play piano and violin, but discovers his real passion for singing. His profound bass-baritone voice is pure velvet and he soon learns to articulate, breathe and treat his voice in order to transform it in a fantastic, powerful tool. These rare gifts, together with an innate musical intelligence are soon noticed.

Eldar Aliev.

Eldar Aliev.

Eldar marries, has two children and starts a career as opera singer. His capacity to attract attention, to become immediately a personality on stage, is legendary. Conductors like Barenboim, Muti or Chailly and opera houses like Covent Garden, Opera Berlin or La Scala, all are interested in this artist. He is considered a voice of the century and his activity gets increasingly frenetic. Sometimes he accepts opera productions in dozens of theaters per season. As he says in one of his interviews; “To sing in the opera is an incomparable pleasure. I adore the singing process itself much more than applause, success, career, although all this is interconnected.”

He is known for his generosity. His plans for more musical life like masterclasses, concerts or opera productions in his native country, which he loves over any other place, soon clashes against lack of interest from the Azeri institutions. All this activity take its toll on his family life, which gets increasingly tense and finally breaks apart. In Eldar, a sort of quest for more and more work arise — first class quality work with no space for compromise.

In September 2000 he wins the Grand Prix at the Second Bulbul International Vocalist Competition held in Baku, Azerbaijan. Again and again invitations from Venice’s “La Fenice,” Tel Aviv, Tokyo. The theaters are forming a long line to invite him.

Video of bass-baritone Eldar Aliev performing “Mentre gonfiarsi l’anima” from Giuseppe Verdi’s opera,Attila, at the Bulbul International Vocalist Competition, September 25, 2000

Click the “expand” button in lower right corner while playing to enlarge.

Eldar begins to push his voice, as many other opera singers have done before him, into higher positions, but all this has its costs. A few years later a small vocal problem puts him into a forced halt. Doctors recommend some rest. But no, not for him, as he feels the urgency to give, to sing and to work. This seems still possible, maybe with some help, some pills — who knows? At a certain point he starts to dislike his own voice. His agenda is full of invitations, but he feels something is broken and starts to refuse engagements. The slow decay inevitably begins.

It has been written that the big operatic institutions abandoned him. This is not entirely true. Again and again he is offered minor roles, even to sing in La Scala choir, but no, not him, not Eldar. His pride would never allow him to accept such a position. Maybe some other underlying medical conditions are blocking him, too – again, who knows? Things get very bad about his health. Sometimes he still tries to react. Sometimes a lonely phone call back to his native Baku: “Please get me out here, please!”

Then then oblivion: a few friends giving him some clothes, some food. Years pass by, the same routine: hiding his few things in a bush together with his neighbor, a boy from Bangladesh, trying to get some food and get some warmth. Passers by can hear him sometimes singing in the morning, his voice still powerful.

And then the inevitable: the health workers find him dead. “Natural cause,” laconically states the death certificate.

Eldar’s life as opera singer comes to an operatic end. Now it is possible to get his documents, readily available. Now his body can fly back to Baku. Now the Azeri authorities organize him a state funeral. Politicians and cultural personalities praise his achievements and he is compared to the great Fyodor Chaliapin by the journalists.

Video of Eldar Aliev as Sorastro in Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte, singing “In diesen heil’gen Hallen” in 1994 at Teatro Comunale di Treviso (now Teatro Mario Del Monac) in Treviso, Italy.

Click the “expand” button in lower right corner while playing to enlarge.

At the funeral, in the middle of all the flowers, stood a great and sincere bouquet from his Precotto friends with the words: “You will stay forever in our hearts.”

Eldar Aliev rests in peace in his native country, as he always wished.

Stories like this happened in the past and unfortunately will happen in the future. The fragile soul of an artist is never completely safe, but one thing we all should learn from all this: a musician, composer or performer is not omnipotent. He is a human being in need of support — a net of help. His work should be considered a difficult and hard one which deserves a necessary respect and just valuation.

The motorhome in Precotto, for some time a fragile home to Eldar, has now been given to his neighbor from Bangladesh. At least someone need no more fear the winter cold.  ■

Giorgio Koukl is a Czech-born pianist/harpsichordist and composer who resides in Lugano, Switzerland. Among his many recordings are the complete solo piano works and complete piano concertos of Bohuslav Martinů on the Naxos label. He has also recorded the piano music of Tansman, Lutosławski, Kapralova, and A. Tcherepnin, amongst others, for the Grand Piano label. Koukl is currently at work recording the solo piano music of Hungarian composer Tibor Harsányi.