Georgian Baritone’s Triumph at the Opera National de Paris

On March 7, Verdi’s immortal Othello was premiered at the Opera National de Paris, The Opera Bastille, one of the primary operas of France counting 30 years’ existence with the capacity to seat around 3000 people. The audience saw the original version of the classical production, by Giuseppe Verdi to an Italian libretto by Arrigo Boito, based on Shakespeare's play Othello, first performed at the Teatro alla Scala, Milan in 1887.

Along with renowned opera singers such as tenor Roberto Alagna in the title role of Othello and soprano Aleksandra Kurzak in the role of Desdemona, the world-famous Georgian baritone George Gagnidze performed before the audience, receiving the great acclaim of the public. The performances are scheduled to take place over one month.

George Gagnidze sang the role of Iago, Othello’s unfaithful ensign. Gagnidze has performed in five different productions so far at The Opera Bastille, including: Francesca da Rimini composed by Riccardo Zandonai, Giacomo Puccini's Tosca, Giuseppe Verdi's Aida, Traviata and Othello that has brought more fame and recognition to his already successful career.

“The part of Iago is a very hard role to play since you have to change the character of the hero several times within just minutes, which requires high artist performance and technique,” Gagnidze told GEORGIA TODAY. “Even though Iago is a villainous character; it is very interesting for an actor to play it. In this opera, I had the chance to show both my artistic and vocal capabilities. This work by Shakespeare, Verdi and Boito is truly incredible. So, playing such a role in this opera is a really thrilling experience. Verdi and Boito followed Shakespeare’s interpretation and transmitted the piece in diverse musical colors. I’m glad the audience was so fascinated and clapped nonstop for 20 minutes. I’m always pleased to perform here. Now I am again happy to be in my beloved Paris and performing in my favorite theater, where I have played a number of beautiful performances, including Francesca da Rimini, Tosca, Aida, etc. This year I also performed Traviata in this unique theater, which was praised by French and Austrian press,” the great baritone added.

Since his sensational debut at the Metropolitan Opera as Rigoletto in 2009, Gagnidze has ranked among the leading singers of his genre. Regularly invited by the most prestigious international opera companies, during the 2017/18 season, he was heard as Tonio in Pagliacci and Alfio in Cavalleria Rusticana at the Metropolitan Opera and at the Hamburg State Opera, Amonasro in Aida at the Teatro Real, Madrid and at the Teatro alla Scala, Milan, as well as his debut as Barnaba in La Gioconda at the Deutsche Opera Berlin.

Career highlights include the title roles in Rigoletto and Macbeth; Amonasro in Aida and Shaklovity in Khovanshchina at the Metropolitan Opera, Nabucco (title role) and Tosca (Scarpia) at the Vienna State Opera, Rigoletto, La traviata, and Aida at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan, Francesca da Rimini, Tosca, Aida, La Traviata, Othello at the Opéra National de Paris, Andrea Chénier (Carlo Gérard) at the San Francisco Opera and Deutsche Oper Berlin, Falstaff (title role) at the New National Theater in Tokyo, Simon Boccanegra (title role) at the Teatro Real, Rigoletto at the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence, Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci at Gran Teatro del Liceu in Barcelona, La Traviata and Nabucco at the Arena di Verona, and Othello at the Greek National Opera and the Staatsoper Hamburg.

Born in Tbilisi and trained at the State Conservatory of his hometown, George Gagnidze debuted as Renato in Un ballo in maschera in 1996 at the Zakaria Paliashvili Tbilisi Opera and Ballet State Theater. After launching his international career in Germany, he was soon engaged by many of the world’s important opera houses. He is the winner of the 2005 “Voci Verdiane” Competition and has worked with many distinguished conductors, including Lorin Maazel, Zubin Mehta, James Levine, Fabio Luisi, James Conlon, Plácido Domingo, Mikko Franck, Jesús López-Cobos, Nicola Luisotti, Daniel Oren, and Gianandrea Noseda.

The entire cast was fascinated by recognized Georgian baritone, praising him with love, warmth and respect.

Celebrated opera singers, a husband and wife performing the title roles, tenor Roberto Alagna and soprano Aleksandra Kurzak, called him their brother and a great colleague.

Aleksandra Kurzak, famous soprano: “We laugh that we, wife, husband and brother are playing together in this opera, since George Gagnidze for us is like a brother. We have so many beautiful memories with him. We have a really close friendship and we are happy to perform together. He had his Metropolitan debut in 2009 with me, we sang together in Rigoletto. It was almost 10 years ago, but we still recall that beautiful evening well.”

Roberto Alagna, celebrated tenor: “I’m happy that the premiere was carried out successfully and we made it. Performing on this great stage is always thrilling for me. I want to thank my friend and colleague George Gagnidze for being an amazing partner. It is always big pleasure and honor to sing with him”.

After incredible premiere of Othello at The Opera Bastille, casting director of the theater, Ilias Tzempetonidis, called George Gagnidze one of the best baritones of the world and a patriot of Georgia.

George is among maximum three baritones globally who can deliver the spirit of the personalities and demonstrate the highest level of musical performance that we need in the Opéra de Paris,” Tzempetonidis said. “I worked with him in La Scala. And then we invited him to Paris and agreed to present him in all big baritone roles, so since 2014 he has been singing in Paris. He is a singer who is highly appreciated here for his professionalism, good personality and positive energy and mostly for his great Georgian voice, transmitting all the traditions from the beautiful country of Georgia through the music of Puccini, Verdi, etc., on the stage in Paris. In this classical production we have trio of great mature voices that make a difference from other Othello operas performed on other stages.”

Bertrand de Billy, Conductor: “Othello, for a conductor, is a gift. It is one of the best operas by Verdi. It is a phenomenal piece of drama, personality and music. I worked with George Gagnidze for the first time at the Metropolitan Opera on Il Tritico. We had good time in New York and now we enjoy working on this amazing opera together in the same way. Besides having a fantastic voice, George is a very good actor who is always open to novelties. I really hope to work and collaborate with him on many productions in the future as well.”

By Lika Chigladze

Photo: George Gagnidze performing Iago in Othello. By Charles Duprat

14 March 2019 17:02