[b]Director Mikhail Pandzhavidze falls in love with Belarusian opera and moves from Moscow to Minsk [/b]It’s not easy to understand how an outsider can head the Bolshoi Opera Theatre. It seems even stranger that Mikhail Pandzhavidze has left his post as the Head Director at the Russian Bolshoi Theatre for employment in Belarus. To avoid idle speculation, I called Mikhail and asked for an interview. The voice at the other end promised to give me 20 minutes. “It’s not long enough,” I said. “Come, maybe we’ll find time,” he responded. In fact, we chatted for an hour and, were it not for his wife and two children rushing into his study, we’d have spoken for even longer. He’s signed a two year contract but has so many plans that it may take five years to realise them.
It’s not easy to understand how an outsider can head the Bolshoi Opera Theatre. It seems even stranger that Mikhail Pandzhavidze has left his post as the Head Director at the Russian Bolshoi Theatre for employment in Belarus. To avoid idle speculation, I called Mikhail and asked for an interview. The voice at the other end promised to give me 20 minutes. “It’s not long enough,” I said. “Come, maybe we’ll find time,” he responded. In fact, we chatted for an hour and, were it not for his wife and two children rushing into his study, we’d have spoken for even longer. He’s signed a two year contract but has so many plans that it may take five years to realise them.
How do you like living in Belarus?
It’s great! I love it. I like that Minsk is so clean and orderly. I’m not afraid of walking its streets at night or of letting my children out. Importantly, the theatre itself is unique.
Firstly, it boasts a wonderful ‘cubature’. Secondly, it has cosmic ‘machinery’. Your theatre is cosmic, don’t you know?
With which theatres do you compare our Opera Theatre?
I have nothing to compare it with and assert that the theatre in Minsk is great.
Is it even better than Moscow’s Bolshoi Theatre?
The Bolshoi will be a splendid place once its construction is complete. So far, it has nothing extraordinary.
Be honest: how has Minsk managed to attract you? Is it the salary?
I can’t talk about this, since the terms of my contract are not for public disclosure. As regards supposedly huge salaries, I can say that I’m paid less here than in Russia. I haven’t come for money (my salary is just a normal one) but for fulfilment. We’re all searching for something. I’ve been living in Belarus for several months now and working on Vladimir Korotkevich’s ‘Grey Legend’, which I’d like to revive. As a child, I saw a film of the same title and became interested in Korotkevich. This was in Soviet times – when I had no relations with Belarus. It was the only former USSR country of which I knew very little. I was very much surprised when I discovered that the ‘Grey Legend’ opera was staged in Minsk.
What can we expect to see eventually?
I’m still getting settled, so we’ll wait and see.
How did your path lead to Minsk?
Last year, I was given the State Award of Tatarstan for the opera ‘Poet’s Love’. Minsk conductor Vyacheslav Volich happened to see it at the Shalyapin International Opera Festival in Kazan and brought my work to Minsk. Later, I was invited to stage ‘Nabucco’ and realised that I wanted to work with your theatre. The team here is wonderful.
Who instigated the move: you or the Minsk theatre?
During the premiere of ‘Nabucco’, the General Director brought me to the Prime Minister and Culture Minister and said, “I’m giving an invitation in your presence.” He didn’t surprise them though.
What are your duties as Chief Director?
I visualise music. I look through musical scores and gain an emotional impression regarding the future performance: music, plot and history. Then, I check the harmonies algebraically, comparing my feelings with the performance’s idea, while trying to understand why it is being staged. I then meet artists to discuss plans, or even make the model myself.
Do you use a computer or do you construct the model yourself?
I often do this myself but I’m not a master of 3D yet; I prefer 2D. Muscovite Pavel Suvorov assists me with 3D models, being an expert in the field.
How long is your working day?
I began today at six in the morning and shall probably end at midnight – it’s typical.
Is it difficult to work with you?
I’m extremely demanding and temperamental. I only need to say a couple of words for the troupe to perform.
Valery Gedroits, the Deputy Director of our Bolshoi Theatre, tells us that opera is losing popularity, unlike ballet. He believes you’ll be able to improve the situation. Are you ready for this?
I’d like to remind you that the Belarusian theatre was one of the few USSR theatres to bear the title ‘Bolshoi’. I can’t say that it was a weak company, especially when the theatre employed such prominent conductors as Voshchak and Provotorov, artists Chemodurov and Lysik and director Shtein. Minsk opera was often broadcast by Central Television but I think your opera has gradually lost its impetus, with opera and ballet developing separately.
When will foreign audiences stop perceiving Belarusian opera as resembling that of Moscow?
I’m afraid of speculating on the topic as I don’t know the history of Belarusian art well. Of course, I’ve been told that the Radziwiłł family had their own opera and that ‘Nesvizh was like Paris’. The essence of ‘Belarusian opera’ is not rooted in any unique works (although, as you see, we’re working on ‘Grey Legend’). Belarusian opera is contemporary
European opera, much like contemporary Ukrainian and German troupes.
Even like the Italians?
Generally speaking, everything began there; it’s where opera is rooted. However, who knows? In two hundred years, Belarusian operas could become global classics. They could become famous even now – owing to your performances and singers.
You once said that you wouldn’t take Nabucco abroad, since those interested in it should visit Minsk. How do you plan to attract fans to your opera?
What can we invent here? They just need to buy a return railway ticket to Minsk, book a hotel and arrive. In the morning, they can tour the beautiful city; in the evening, go to the theatre. As regards, ‘Nabucco’, it takes twenty four hours to assemble it. This is why it’s difficult to take abroad for tour and only certain stages are suitable. As for the audience, some people especially travel to Vienna to see a performance. I can place good advertising on the Internet for such people. Our tickets are not very expensive and it’s a good chance to visit Belarus.
When will our theatre begin to see profits?
It does make a profit. We boast full houses, which bring in money. Crowd pleasers include ‘Carmen’, ‘La Traviata’, ‘Rigoletto’ and, now, ‘Nabucco’. Opera is not self-financing and is always loss-making but we need to invest, understanding that the theatre is not just entertainment but education…
By Victor Andreev