Tbilisi Conservatory Opera Studio, Tbilisi Conservatory

Paliashvili, Daisi

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).

Tbilisi State Opera, Tbilisi Conservatory

Paliashvili, Daisi

My season opened in the Conservatory with a concert performance of Daisi by Zakharia Paliashvili, the father of Georgian classical music.  The Tbilisi State Opera House is under renovation, so the State Opera is performing in other venues.  I saw this opera staged, with a similar cast, in Spring 2009, but since Paliashvili is virtually unknown and never performed outside Georgia, it is worth hearing live again and again (I have Soviet era recordings of this and another one of his operas – Abesalom da Eteri – stored on my iTunes, so I do get to listen to recordings of this wonderful music even in Moscow).  Truly beautiful music, combining traditional Georgian modes with Western Classical structures.

In the intimate confines of the Conservatory, the cast came off very well.  The lead tenor, Armaz Darashvili, and especially the lead baritone, Sulkhan Gvelesiani, even more so, were particularly strong, and the audience reaction nearly forced Gvelesiani to sing every one of his arias twice (certainly, from the looks he and the conductor, Revaz Takidze, kept giving each other, I think they seriously considered it – and since it was not a staged performance, reprising an aria would not have disturbed the drama).  The strings got off to a slow start with a very student-like sound, but once fully warmed up did fine.  Bizarrely, it looked like they handed out string instruments based on the age of the performers – violinists looked like they were about 20 years old, violists averaged about 35, cellists averaged about 65, and double bassists were around 50.  That cannot be a way to set up an orchestra.  Winds were of all ages and were very good, particularly the solo oboe.

Tbilisi State Opera

Paliashvili, Daisi

I went to closing night at the Tbilisi State Opera: Daisi (“Dawn”) by Paliashvili. Good cast and beautiful music, but unclear what the title had to do with the dark plot.  Nevertheless, very pleased to hear this music and to get to know this composer, apparently (and unjustifiably) unknown outside his homeland.

Tbilisi State Opera

Paliashvili, Abesalom da Eteri

Considered the masterpiece of Georgian classical music, Zakharia Paliashvili‘s opera Abesalom da Eteri from 1919 combined Georgian polyphonic modes with Western operatic traditions.  Gorgeous, moody, raw music – I wish it were performed outside Georgia (and that there were a reasonable-quality recording available on CD).

The music was sort of like Rimsky’s Kitezh, but with the rawness of Mussorgsky.  I have no idea if it has ever been performed outside Georgia – the Georgian language being somewhat obscure, I am not sure it would be performed by non-Georgians except in translation.

This is my first performance at the Tbilisi State Opera, which has an ornate neo-Persian theater.  The quality of the opera company is better than in many eastern European houses, most of which seem to have had their talent drained to higher-paying western houses. This was quite a good performance.  Staging was minimal but sensible. Costumes were appropriate for the mythical setting.

I think the house saved its money by not installing lightbulbs.  The lobby, hallways, and bathrooms were all mostly dark.  But the building itself was floodlit from the outside – I presume that comes from the city’s budget and not from the opera house’s.