Walking past the Tbilisi Conservatory this afternoon, I saw a lonely poster advertising a performance of Zakaria Paliashvili’s opera Daisi an hour later. The Conservatory is lousy at advertising, does not have a particularly useful website, and only publishes announcements in Georgian (so it also goes without saying in the Georgian alphabet, meaning that for most of us it is not easy to decipher quickly what concerts or events might be). But there it was, and boy am I glad I dropped in a got a ticket (excellent seat for about 2.50 USD).
The Tbilisi Conservatory Opera Studio’s simply-staged production and no-nonsense orchestral accompaniment allowed the terrific young voices to shine. Standing out even more than the others was Lela Zaridze, who sang the female lead Maro with a passion. Although the Conservatory Hall is a small space, her voice could easily fill a full-sized opera house. As her friend Nano, Mariam Murghulis added an extra youthful freshness, particularly in their double-soprano duets. Levan Tabatadze portraryed the opera’s villain Kiazo darkly but sympathetically – although still the bad guy in this romantic plot, he is after all the one who has been wronged. He cut a dashing figure in his angularly gold-trimmed black chokha, although he could have used less hair gel. Unfortunately, in the lead male role Malkhaz, Levan Abutidze, had a weaker and drier voice that simply did not match up to his peers. He also could not act to save his life (or even to die, as he is supposed to do in Act Three, but which Abutidze did not do well either).
Revaz Takidze led the orchestra deliberately, at a somewhat slower beat than usual, but which allowed the musicians to accentuate Paliashvili’s wonderful neo-polyphony. Since this is a concert hall and not an opera house, the orchestra “pit” is not much of a pit, meaning the orchestra easily could have overwhelmed the singers. Credit Takidze that it did not. The Conservatory Orchestra also sounded far better than anything I have heard in Yerevan. Armenia turns out some great individual musicians, but I think that Georgians are naturally more musical.
So last night I experienced Komitas in Yerevan, and tonight Paliashvili in Tbilisi. These are the greatest composers to emerge from their respective countries, and they are seldom performed outside their homelands (although Komitas was known in Europe during his lifetime). Part of that may come from their languages (Armenian is at least Indo-European; Georgian is impenetrable). But given music of this quality, it really should travel. I should not have to go to Yerevan and Tbilisi to hear it live.
I also suspect I was the only foreigner in the audience both nights. And while last night’s Komitas selections were new to me, I may have been more familiar with Paliashvili’s Daisi than some of the Georgians in the audience (except perhaps the man directly behind me who periodically sang along to the lead tenor parts – not sure if he got carried away or just thought that Abutidze needed help).