Q & A: Bass Giorgi Manoshvili on How He Moved From Folk Music to Opera

By Alan Neilson

In 2022, the Georgian bass, Giorgi Manoshvili, made a big impression performing the role of Caliban in Halévy’s opera “La Tempesta” at the Wexford Festival Opera. He also thrilled the audience with a recital on the main stage. This year, he returned to the festival and, once again, was a big hit with audiences. He did this while learning his trade at the Wexford Factory, the festival’s young artists’ program, but more impressive is that he has only been studying and singing opera for three years. He had no formal opera singing training before 2020. To listen to him, however, one would never know it. He has a fabulous voice and uses it with such confidence and intelligence.

He is a singer destined for a distinguished career.

The first impression one receives when meeting him is that he is a hard-working, serious artist. Yet, he is a very humble, polite and thoughtful character, maybe even a little shy. This is no divo seeking the limelight. Manoshvili is a strong-willed opera singer, determined to succeed.

OperaWire thought it would be a good idea to meet up with the Georgian singer to find out more about his background and how he sees his career developing in the future.

OperaWire: You started your career singing traditional Georgian folk music. Could you tell us something about this experience?

Georgi Manoshvili: I could talk about this all day because I love this music. It was my life for more than ten years. I studied folk and church chant music at the university as an academic subject. Folk music is very important in Georgia.

The main instruments we use are the chonguri, a four-stringed long neck lute; the panduri, a three-stringed long neck lute; and the chianuri, which is like an old cello. They are very authentic traditional instruments. The singing is polyphonic, using a number of singers. There are different types of songs; sometimes they are built on a bass, sometimes they are like jazz with a lot of polyphonic movement. It varies according to which part of Georgia you are looking at. I know that it is only a small country, but it has a really rich variety of folk music.

For ten years, I sang in an ensemble called Rustavi, and we sang all around the world. There were singers, dancers and musicians. I can actually play all the instruments. There were ten or eleven singers.

Maybe it is difficult to find the authentic sound of Georgian folk music these days. It is now more of a mix; sometimes they sing traditional songs, but they also sing music with a guitar or romantic songs from the last century. It is now really professional music, and it is not easy music to listen to. Some of it is very difficult. So now you hear folk music in concert halls, not in local bars. Centuries ago, it was part of people’s lives. Now it has more or less died off, but we presented it in concert halls. The singing style has now become more academic.

OW: Did you specialize in a specific type of Georgian folk? 

GM: When I finished studying, I started teaching at the university, so I know a lot about the different folk traditions. I am a bass, which has the smallest role in Georgian folk music, except for the region of Guria, which has a far bigger role for bass singers. So, I sing a lot of music from this region.

OW: So, what made you switch to opera? 

GM: When I started singing 13 years ago with the Rustavi ensemble, I had a problem following the singers and conductors, who had graduated from the conservatory. I didn’t know how to breathe well. The repertoire was difficult, the concerts were long, and I would quickly run out of breath. I was always very tired after concerts, and so I was advised to study with a singing teacher. His name was Omar Khopheria, and he taught me about breath control. He told me after a few lessons that I had a voice for opera. But the problem was that they had asked him to prepare me for folk singing and not opera. So, we did vocal exercises, but I never sang opera arias with him. I had to do that at home by myself. I studied arias, but for years I was not sure if I could do it because I had my folk music, and this was my work. It was very difficult to combine both. It was only in 2020 that I decided to pursue an opera career. There was a teacher at the conservatory in Tiblisi, and they were always telling me that I should come and study there. Finally, in 2020, I decided to do a master’s degree and enrolled.

OW: Which do you prefer to sing – opera or traditional folk music?

GM: Opera is the best thing in the world. Traditional music is really good, but it has its limitations. In opera, there is always something new to discover.

OW: When and where did you perform your first role in a fully staged opera? 

GM: The bass Orlin Anastasov came to Tiblisi and was doing auditions for his new agency. He listened to me sing and took me on. It was very slow at the time because of COVID, but I did an audition for Pesaro and was accepted. That was in 2021. I played Lord Sidney in “Il Viaggio di Reims” at the Accademia Roissiniana. It was a bit of a risk, as it is a difficult role. That is where I met Rosetta Cucchi, who invited me to join the Wexford Factory Young Artists program in 2022.

OW: In what ways did the Wexford Factory help you?

GM: It was a very interesting experience. I was with many good singers, and there were lots of excellent masterclasses. It was very intense; every day there were many things we had to do. It also gave me many opportunities. I sang a recital on the main stage; it was the first recital I had ever given in my life! I can tell you, I was very nervous. I also sang in Halévy’s “La Tempesta” in the role of Caliban. It was a big challenge to sing in one of the main operas and then do a recital the next day. But I love challenges, and every challenge is important for me. This sort of experience really helps you develop. This year, I have been given two roles to sing: Mustafa in Rossini’s “L’Italiana in Algeri” and Kouraguine in “L’Aube Rouge.” They are very different roles, and, of course, I like this challenge.   

OW: In fact, you are performing in Erlanger’s “L’Aube Rouge” this evening. What are your impressions of this largely unknown opera?

GM: I didn’t know anything about Erlanger before I got this role. The opera is very interesting. It is about a group of Russian nihilists. I am playing the role of Kouragine. He is a complicated man. He is the real leader of the group, but he keeps a low profile and does not say he is the leader. He is a manipulator and is always trying to keep the group calm and balanced. He is older than the rest. He allows his best friend to die for an idea; something he becomes very conflicted about, but his ideals are too important. The music for my character is difficult, but it suits my voice. It is not the best opera in the world, but I think the opera has been unfairly neglected.

OW: Describe your voice.

GM: My voice is a basso cantabile, and I am still in the process of discovering the most suitable repertoire. I have a range from low F to high G; at least this is the range in which I feel very comfortable. So, I have a good extension in the upper register. I feel it is a very flexible voice; wherever I want to go, it follows me. I am not in the tradition of the very low, heavy Russian bass. At this stage in my career, I prefer the Italian bel canto bass roles.

OW: Of the basses that you have listened to, who do you most admire?

GM: My favorite bass singer is Cesare Siepi. I am not sure if I have a voice that is similar to his, but I like it. I also like Samuel Ramey, especially when he is singing Rossini roles, and he is definitely the best Mefistofele. And, of course, there is Boris Christoff.

When people listen to a bass, they are waiting for the deep, big, rich sound, but first of all, the bass has to be able to sing!

OW: What are your medium and long-term ambitions? 

GM: I am very ambitious. All day long, I study opera. It is important to be ambitious. But it has to be an ambition that arises from the love of the music.

I think that within five to seven years, most of my repertoire will be in Verdi roles. But at the moment, I am trying a mixture of roles. If I start a heavier repertoire immediately, I could damage my voice, as I have only been singing opera for three years. If someone asks me to sing Zaccaria from “Nabucco,” I say no. It is too early. I must look after my voice. At the moment, I want to try the big Rossini roles.

As for the theaters I would like to sing in, of course, I would love to be singing at The Met and Covent Garden.


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