A Chat with Anita Rachvelishvili

Although I knew that Anita Rachvelishvili was an intriguing Konchakovna in Alexander Borodin’s Prince Igor at the Met during the 2014-2015 season, I had no idea that she could do an interview in English until I heard her speak with Anna Netrebko during the Met HD transmission of Giuseppe Verdi’s Macbeth.
Rachvelishvili has a fascinating personality and speaks English, as well as several other languages, fluently. Here is what she told me in early January, 2015.
MN: Where did you grow up?
AR: I grew up in Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, during the War for Independence that began in the early nineties. When I was a little girl, there was a serious conflict and bombs were falling all around us. I still remember how frightening it was. There were times when my family, which was poor to begin with, had no food and worse yet, no water. At that time the capital city was a mess of destruction. My parents were amazing, however. They gave me their unconditional love and taught me to survive.
Although the war is only held off by a truce, Georgia is now replete with the beauties of nature. Today, Tbilisi is a lovely place that has really good food and wine. Georgians love guests. We always do our best to make them feel comfortable while we show them the most interesting aspects of our culture. When I’m away I miss the taste of Georgian food that comes from its unique spices. Many of the seasonings are actually dried flowers. One of the most famous Georgian dishes is eggplant with walnuts, flavored with these dried flowers. There are quite a few Georgian restaurants in New York City, but eating in one of them is not the same as being home.
I love the particular taste of Georgian water. In every country the water tastes different because of its mineral and bacterial content. There is something special about arriving home and savoring that unique taste that connects me to my country and my culture. That is rather a spiritual thing with me.
MN: Does Georgia offer good opportunities for musically talented young people?
AR: You can get a good musical education in Georgia, but it is not easy to find work after you finish your education. Georgia, unfortunately, is a really poor country with a lot of great musicians, so we need to travel to find work. I hope one day the situation will be different, and I am trying to do my best to help the situation.
MN: How did you come to apprentice in Italy?
AR: Every year the Teatro alla Scala holds a big international competition and the winners are invited to attend its academy for young artists. In 2007, I was one of almost 400 vocal contestants from the entire world. Attending the La Scala Academy was a direct way for me to get on the stage of the Teatro alla Scala.
Having worked at the academy for two years, from 2007 to 2009, I learned a great deal about singing, opera, and the way to survive a young artist program. Many great singers have taught there including Mirella Freni, Luciana Serra and the late Leyla Gencer. I really adored working with Ms. Gencer, with Renato Bruson and with the great pianist and coach, Vicenzo Scalera.

As a member of the Academy, I sang concerts, participated in master classes, and portrayed roles in the Scala’s academic productions, which are presented on the main stage of the theater with an orchestra of young players. In Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro my role was Cherubino. I wasn’t bad in that part, but they had a hard time making me look like a boy. That whole cast had huge voices so we were well matched vocally.
Having also been chosen to sing some of the regular productions, I portrayed small roles at first. It was an honor to sing in Ildebrando Pizzetti’s Assassinio nella Cattedrale with Ferruccio Furlanetto and in Giacomo Puccini’s Suor Angelica with Barbara Frittoli. In the latter I was one of the nuns, so I had no makeup and glasses! There was some pressure, too, because I was the first person to come out onstage and sing. That role was very exciting for me as a student.
MN: This season you sang Georges Bizet’s Carmen at the Met and in Manheim. You will sing it again at La Scala. How many different stagings do you have to remember?
AR: Over the past five years I have probably done fifty different stagings of Carmen in different styles, in different periods and with different types of costumes. My favorite productions are those at the Met by Richard Eyre and at La Scala by Emma Dante. The latter is non-traditional but very well done. Beyond any kind of standard, for me it’s mind blowing. I also love Francesca Zambello’s production at Covent Garden and the one by Franco Zeffirelli in Verona.
You will notice that most of the productions mentioned are traditional. I really do like shows that tell the story in a straightforward manner and which may show the audience a bit of history. I also enjoy the Flamenco dancing and the other colorful aspects of Carmen. Having had a great deal of experience singing Carmen, I can say that traditional or semi traditional productions work best for it. Modern non-traditional productions that don’t change the story of the libretto are often effective for other operas. I have done some Russian operas in which they worked extremely well.
MN: How long have you been singing Amneris?
AR: Two years ago, I did that role debut in Detroit in a beautiful traditional production of Aida directed by Bliss Hebert. Although we only performed it there four times, I loved that theater. I have done Amneris in concert a few times and performed it in the DeBosio staging at the Verona Arena last summer. I love the role and feel really comfortable in it. This summer I will again sing Amneris at Verona but it will be in the Zeffirelli production.
Amneris is a lot more than just the princess who wants Aida’s lover. She is a strong woman who knows Radames much longer than Aida. They grew up together. Amneris wants to help Radames even though he has betrayed her and his country but when he is completely out of control there is nothing she can do. She knows his personality and that he cannot control his emotions firmly enough to realize that love and its pleasures are not everything in life. Amneris is smart and sees the reality of the situation. Despite being a princess, she begs the priests for mercy. When he dies she is heartbroken. The story of two women who love the same man is an everyday occurrence and people can easily relate to it. It is the mezzo-soprano’s tragedy that she is usually the other woman who does not get the man.
MN: What are your plans for the rest of 2015?
AR: Right now I am in my home in Georgia. I will sing some concerts here before going to Milan to sing Amneris at La Scala. Here in Tbilisi I will first do the crossover program with jazz, blues and Broadway show tunes that I sang at Le Poisson Rouge in New York. Georgians want to hear what I did in New York. I’m also preparing some arias with my pianist so I’m working all the time. I hate to take a break and just do nothing. If I have time, I like to organize concerts and do something useful.
We have about a month of rehearsal for Aida at La Scala. After the last of those shows, I go directly to Salzburg, Austria, for two performances of the Verdi Requiem. Then I again sing Amneris in Rome and go back to the Scala for a revival of Emma Dante’s amazing 2009 Carmen. I’m really looking forward to that. I will spend the summer singing Amneris in Verona. I love the audience at that informal outdoor theater, especially when it is warm and everyone is relaxed. Having have had many beautiful experiences there, I am very comfortable singing on that stage. Verona is a magical place for me.
MN: Will you be making any recordings in the near future?
AR: We are looking for some time to record an album of songs and arias with orchestra. The problem is that I am fully booked until 2020. I really hope we can find a few days to do it soon because I know people are waiting for it. I will probably do some arias from Carmen, Samson et Dalila, and Werther. I would also like to include some Rossini arias and songs from Russia, Georgia and the United States. I love American music.
MN: How much modern technology do you use in your work?
AR: All my music scores are on my iPad, so I use it all the time. I even sang Verdi Requiem using my IPad instead of a paper music score. I prefer downloads to compact discs because we need to stop using so much plastic and so many chemical products. It is the best way to save our planet. You can always burn a CD if you need it. I do that for my grandmother. At recitals, some ecology-conscious people sell downloads by giving the buyer a beautifully designed paper with the artist’s picture, the program, and a code for the download on it. Those who want autographs can get them on the papers. It is important to cut down on our use of paper and plastic and that method of distributing music can help.

image_description=Anita Rachvelishvili [Photo by Salvatore Sportato]
product_title=A Chat with Anita Rachvelishvili
product_by=An interview by Maria Nockin
product_id=Above: Anita Rachvelishvili [Photo by Salvatore Sportato]