Part 1

Name: George Gagnidze
Nationality: Georgian
Occupation: baritone singer
Current Release: George Gagnidze: Opera Arias on Orfeo
Recommendations: everything by Shakespeare and The Persistence of Memory by Salvador Dalí.

If you enjoyed this interview George Gagnidze then you can learn more about him on his website www.georgegagnidze.com

When did you start singing, and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?

I started singing when I was a teenager. In Georgia, it’s customary to sing during dinners with friends, and one of my family’s friends remarked I had an interesting voice, and introduced me to an esteemed voice teacher. I had a sort of epiphany when I saw Luciano Pavarotti singing ‘L’elisir d’amore’ on TV in a Metropolitan Opera production. I believe that was the moment I finally decided I wanted to sing professionally. In addition, my country has a very old and storied tradition of male choral singing and it is a tradition to sing at home, at the dinner table for example.
So, I've always been singing, I grew up with it and was therefore always accustomed to expressing myself through voice.

For most artists, originality is preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you: How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice?

Yes, that’s right. A young artist will almost always have some other singers as a reference point. In my case I adored baritones like Protti, Cappuccilli, Bastianini or Gobbi. It’s very normal: you study, listen to recordings and there is always somebody that catches your attention and you’d like to emulate. Nobody is born in a vacuum, so it’s inevitable to find inspiration in other singers. The important thing is, once you start your career, to treasure the best qualities of other singers while finding your own voice, your own style. You must find something that audiences will immediately associate with you, your trademark. Now, I very rarely listen to recordings of other singers, because it is very important for me to perform my own interpretation and to not copy anyone, which can happen easily if listening too much to recording of other singers.

How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?

I have a powerful identity as a Georgian man, and since I was very young, always living close to a strong oppressive power, it has helped me create a strong feeling of what is right and what is wrong, which I have always tried to reverse in my characters on stage, whether they are villains or heroes. 

As creative goals and technical abilities change, so does the need for different tools of expression. Can you describe this path for you, starting from your first instrument to becoming a singer? 

At first, when you are a student, very often your primary goal is to find a proper and correct technique. Like most students or singers in the very first phases of their career, I also would place more emphasis into building the foundation of a career, that is a sound technique. Once you find it, you are free to find more ways to express yourself, your own individual voice.

Tell me about your instrument, your voice, please. How would you describe the relationship with it? What are its most important qualities and how do they influence the musical results, including your own performance?

I do believe I have a good relationship with my voice. I am lucky I was born with a relatively rare type of voice, one that is capable to interpreting true dramatic heroic baritone roles. This and a secure technique have allowed me to interpret a very wide variety of extremely interesting characters by Verdi, Puccini and Verismo composers. Even parts of the German repertoire by Strauss and Wagner such as Jochanaan in Salome or the title role of The Flying Dutchman, which I have sung at the beginning of my career and which I would love to perform again. The most important qualities of my voice are, in my opinion, an extended range (useful especially in Verdi), a dark sound, and the ability to express an ample range of dynamics even at a very high tessitura. You cannot sing Verdi without these qualities.

How would you describe your approach to interpretation? Where do you start and how do you develop your view on a piece, what are some of your principles and what constitutes a successful interpretation for you?

For me everything starts by studying the score. Everything is written by the composer.  Once I perfectly know the music and text, I try to read the literary source of an opera, if it exists, to add some more background. A successful interpretation is when I add my own individual style to what the composer has painstakingly indicated in the score. That would be my principle: start from the score and add my own style to make it unique and different from other singers’ interpretations. 

Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives? 

An operatic performance is the cumulative result of the collaboration between the singer, the conductor and the stage director. I certainly have my opinion of a character when I show up for rehearsals, but the final outcome is determined by the experience conductors and stage directors, as well other colleagues, bring to any given production. That’s the beauty of live music. I may have my strong opinion of a certain character, but I am also very willing to listen to and incorporate suggestions coming from conductors and stage directors, if they make perfect sense.

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