The new Tosca in Bucharest caused a stir in a city longing for the opera superstars, who come so seldom on the national stage. For this production, Bucharest National Opera set the tenor Marcello Giordani as top of the bill. But he did not come, and the recoil was so obvious that almost all of us forgot that the main role in Puccini’s opera is sung by a great artist, the soprano Iano Tamar.
I knew Iano Tamar first of all from the Don Carlos in Wiener Staatsoper, a complete restitution of the French version, in five acts, including all the ballet music, that does not appear on any other audio or video recording ever made, not even on the (not very good) CD with Abbado, Ricciarelli and Domingo. I also knew her from that Il trovatore in Bregenz, one of the most challenging productions Robert Carsen has ever made. On the other hand, this phenomenon of the Georgian voices, more and more present at the highest level, is bound to excite the curiosity. On my way to the Intercontinental Hotel, where I was supposed to meet Iano Tamar, while I was trying to mentally select a coherent set of questions out of the very many instantly produced by the artist’s yes to my invitation, I was day dreaming about the ideal interview. At the same time, I was tempering my expectations, thinking about the reasonable interview. How the discussion went, you will read right away. From my point of view, it was not reasonable. It was fantastic.
Iano Tamar is a strong personality and one can see that as soon as she starts to speak. At the same time, she is a complex artist, whose vision on music and life is based on a set of universally valid values. A communicative and engaging person – our conversation was dense and alert, I can only hope that its rhythm can be found in the written version. A multicultural dialogue, in several languages – for Iano Tamar, Italian was the most comfortable language, and I got to mix English and French in order to ask the questions I could not clearly express in Italian.
Despre Opera: First of all, what is your family name, Tamar? Because I keep thinking about the relation between this name and Georgia’s most representative historical personality, queen Tamar the Great (1160 – 1213). And, we must admit that the world of opera, where belcanto libretti are full of queens and princesses, is very suitable for this.
Iano Tamar: Alibegashvili is my family name. But I used it very little, when I sang at the beginning of my career, in Georgia. After I left to study in Italy, when I made my debut in Semiramide, I was advised to use a simpler stage name and this is how I got Tamar. A quite simple choice for a stage name – it is a name with a strong Georgian significance.
Despre Opera: I know pretty little about Georgia… But I simply love a Georgian cinema director, Tenghiz Abuladze, great director…
Iano Tamar: Abuladze, yes! A very good director, very big, you are right, thank you for remembering him here…
Despre Opera: He made a trilogy, but I saw only the last two parts. And especially the last one, Repentance…
Iano Tamar: Yes, Repentance, the movie about the politician, Beria, yes, incredible! Even now I get goose pimples when I remember this movie, Abuladze was so profound, so intelligent, to know how to describe all these things not theatrically, but… intellectually…
Despre Opera: And it included referrals to opera, because the dictator sang that aria from Il trovatore.
Iano Tamar: Yes, yes, you are right! I don’t remember the precise aria, but I remember…
Despre Opera: It was Di quella pira… In Nino’s dream, the painter’s wife, Sandro Baratelli, who was arrested, the dictator appeared in her dream singing Di quella pira.
Iano Tamar: As a symbol of revenge.
Despre Opera: The significances of this movie are very strong, and so is its message.
Iano Tamar: Yes, exactly, I remember especially the last scene, where the old woman, played by a very famous Georgian actress, Veriko Andzhaparidze (I think this was her last role), was looking for the street with the church and she asked: Is this the road that leads to the church? The answer she got was This is Varlam (the name of the dictator) Street and it will not take you to the church. Then the old woman replied What good is a road if it doesn’t lead to a church?.
Despre Opera: Exactly!
Iano Tamar: Very beautiful, extraordinary! Well, I must tell you that I have, at home, a painting with this road precisely, but which, at the end of it, has an orthodox church. I was very impressed when I saw the movie.
Despre Opera: The movie was made before Gorbachev came to power, when communism was not over yet, and, at first, it was shelved. I remember I saw it first on the Russian television, in Perestroika era. And it was dubbed in Russian. After the Revolution, the movie was presented in the Romanian cinemas and I wanted very much to see it, this time in the original version, in Georgian… It is a very, very good movie! And it is very close to us, it was a common language, because we were a former communist country too, it was a movie that got several prizes at Cannes.
Iano Tamar: So, this time you went to see the original version… (she laughs). An extraordinary movie.
Despre Opera: This was the first time I heard Georgian, a language with extraordinary resonances, those of an archaic language, a special idiom, with a special musicality.
Iano Tamar: Well, not exactly, let us not forget that we have marked, strong consonants, but it is true that it is one of the oldest languages, an antique language, it has nothing to do with the Slavic languages, or with the Oriental ones, it is a separate language, like the Armenian, Antique languages, very individual.
Despre Opera: I found out later that the Georgians have been Christian for a very long time.
Iano Tamar: Since the beginning of the IVth century! This was the moment when Christianity entered our people, by Santa Nino, who was not Georgian, but she came from another region, from Cappadocia, she brought the Christian cross to Georgia. And Nino is a popular and very used name in Georgia, my daughter’s name is Nino!
Despre Opera: There is also a soprano, Nino Machaidze.
Iano Tamar: Sure, and Nino Surguladze…
Despre Opera: Tamar is a frequent name, too. For example, Tamar Iveri.
Iano Tamar: Yes, Tamar Iveri, but for her Iveri is the stage name, ”Iveri” is Georgia’s ancient name.
Despre Opera: Exactly! From Iveria! And Colchida, and this is how we get to the legend of Jason – Giasone !
Iano Tamar: And Medeea, who is presented as Greek, in fact she was Georgian! And the legend says Medeea killed her sons. But there is a second version, saying that the Greek killed them but, in order to have a clear conscience, put the blame on Medeea. The story is fascinating …
Despre Opera: You have sung Medeea! Does this have a special significance for you?
Iano Tamar: Yes! Of course! I have sung it several times, in very important productions. It is a pride for me! It is like taking all the initiatives myself, as if I showed the director what a Georgian character means. It is a role I sing easily and with a certain liberty, this is clear.
Despre Opera: Medeea was one of Maria Callas’ biggest roles.
Iano Tamar: Exactly! And this role suited her best, because she was Greek. But, at a certain moment, when asked about her origin, she answered that she was not Greek, because she was born in New York (she laughs). Callas knew the truth for sure.
Despre Opera: Another strong role.
Iano Tamar: A terrible role. It is a role that I absolutely love, it is strong from the beginning to the end. Incredible. But here we are talking about Tosca, who is jealous, who kills, who has a sanguine temperament. Medeea is different, in her case we do not have jealousy, but pride, it is not love, it is a very big pride: what, he replaced me with another one? It is very different. This is the source of the very profound dramatism of revenge. It is a feminine pride, another phenomenon…
Despre Opera: Medeea is a very beautiful experience in your career.
Iano Tamar: I sang it in French, with spoken recitatives, there is also a recording, with the Medeea I sang at the Martina Franca Festival, in Italy. It is a very beautiful festival, very special, where they sing forgotten and rediscovered pieces. Here I have sung different productions : Pacini – L’ultimo giorno di Pompei, Massenet – Roma, which had not been sung after its premiere in Monte Carlo, in 1912. All the recordings were made under the Dynamic label. I have also sung Macbeth, the first version, from 1847, then Le trouvere, in French, by Verdi… Robert Bruce by Rossini, which is mainly a pastiche, with moments from different operas by Rossini, La Donna del Lago, Guillaume Tell. I had so much fun singing this opera. And so many others… I loved to sing these unknown operas mainly because I did not have any possibility to listen to recordings with other singers, in order to study them. You know the modern singers – they listen to recordings, they compare, they study. But I have made a habit of studying a character without listening to him/her and this is a very beautiful method, because then you discover that, intuitively, you have done things that some great artists had done before you. It is an extraordinary method. For instance, in Macbeth, I was intuitively doing something, according to what my heart dictated me, and then I discovered that Callas had done the same thing before me. I was so surprised… I said to myself : This cannot be true !!! (she laughs) Don’t get me wrong, I do not want to compare myself to Tebaldi, or to Callas, and even less with other opera singers that I respect very much, but my principle has always been to reveal all my capacity, all my personality.
Despre Opera: But how do you explain that in Georgia you have so many worldwide known sopranos? Is there anything special in the canto school in your country?
Iano Tamar: I have been asked this several times. And here is my answer: you, Romanians, you too have many opera singers with very beautiful voices. It’s a matter of nature, this is how people are born, with beautiful voices.
Despre Opera: I also know the Trovatore in which you sang, in Bregenz. The costumes were made by a Romanian, Miruna Boruzescu. I’ve found out recently that she died a month ago.
Iano Tamar: But I worked with her! A wonderful woman!! And with him, too, with Robert Carsen. They were together all the time. What a pity… What an extraordinary woman!
Despre Opera: Have you worked with the Romanian director Andrei Șerban? Do you know him?
Iano Tamar: No, what are his most important productions?
Despre Opera: Lucia di Lamermoor and Italiana in Algeri and Les Indes Galantes in Paris, Turandot at the Covent Garden.
Iano Tamar: I don’t sing this repertory and this is why I don’t know him.
Despre Opera: I thought you have sung Rossini and…
Iano Tamar: From Rossini I have sung Semiramide, La Donna del Lago, Otello – such a marvel!!! Rossini’s Desdemona – what a character! Verdi’s Desdemona is gentle, tender, Rossini’s Desdemona is strong! The willow song is lyrical, but the recitative after it, when she is waiting for Otello, says it clearly that there is something wrong. And when Otello offends her, when he accuses her of infidelity, one could say it is Medeea. I loved to sing it! Very beautiful!
Despre Opera: While you were a child, did you sing in the church choir?
Iano Tamar: During communism? Are you kidding? There were choirs, of course, but politically speaking it was not possible to sing in the choir. Of course, everybody knows that the orthodox church does not exist without its choir – there were children, students who went to sing, and to make some money, but very prudently. But, you know how things are, from the psychological point of view: the more forbidden, the more attractive… I didn’t sing in the church choir because I didn’t have time, and when I was a student, I had good conditions, so I did not need this. I was fortunate to have a good scholarship, I could live well. And the life was good then in Georgia, we were not in Russia. So, the question was how come we have so beautiful voices in Georgia. I don’t know if you have ever listened to traditional Georgian music – it is very rich. And I guarantee there is no Georgian who cannot sing in three voices. I guarantee! It is incredible. They simply have this in their blood. Traditional Georgian music is incredibly beautiful!!
Despre Opera: I heard this music, at Enescu Festival, the conductor Vladimir Spivakov gave an encore from Khachaturian, a Georgian dance, in fact a Caucasian dance, claimed as their own by all the peoples in the region, Lezghinka from the ballet Gayane. It was fabulous!!
Iano Tamar: Ah, yeeesss, the Georgian dance! Wonderful!!! Georgian dances are magnificent! I have been living in Italy for 25 years and I have never seen something so extraordinary, so rich. So, before the opera, in Georgia there is a rich folklore tradition
Despre Opera: In Romania, too, there was a department of folklore in the Conservatory. And the folklore was cultivated by the communist system, in the framework of a cultural policy. But the folklore on the radio or the TV was and still is modified, ideologised, falsified, therefore resembling less and less to the original.
Iano Tamar: Me too, I studied folklore in the Conservatory. Yes, it is clear, you are right. There is one thing the communists did wrong from the cultural point of view: they did everything for their own interest. The communists did not touch the Georgian folklore, because it was related to the people’s attitude. During communism, there were groups of dancers who toured the world, for instance Ramishvili and Sukhishvili, and amazed everyone. And high level directors know them all. Georgian folklore was born like this, in the fields, there was one man who started to sing, the second one followed, with the second type of voice, then the third one, the bass, and this is how polyphony was born. Of course, Bach used polyphony, but in the Georgian folklore there have been polyphonic songs for a very long time, and of very different types. Because Georgia has many mountains, each population, living on one mountain, had its own songs. These mountains allowed Georgia to keep its independence – the Romans had entered up to one point, but they could not go any further.
Despre Opera: I asked you about the canto technique on purpose, because the spinto and dramatic voices are rare…
Iano Tamar: My voice is defined as such: soprano dramatico di agilita
Despre Opera: These voices are rare, you cannot find them everywhere. They are strong, penetrating voices. Keri-Lynn Wilson’s orchestra played very loud and still, you had no problem to get through this sound.
Iano Tamar: Thank you very much!! We are always afraid, on stage, that the audience won’t hear us because of the orchestra or because of the acoustics of the auditorium. Generally speaking, and I do not include here this specific case, conductors tend to have a symphonic concert and to forget that we are on stage, with our two vocal chords, and we have to fight, one person, with 50 or even 100 instruments.
Despre Opera: And, moreover, it’s Puccini, who turned the score into a wall of sounds, of music. The soloists must get through this wall, and it is very difficult, I was amazed at how you managed to do this and the men on stage couldn’t. The tenor was better from this point of view, but the baritone’s voice could hardly be heard when the orchestra was loud. But you were extraordinary. And effortlessly. (laughs) How many times have you sung Tosca?
Iano Tamar: In Montpellier 8 years ago, in Paris, Berlin, Tokyo, a total of 5 productions. Plus the one in Bucharest. This is not the opera I love most. I love everything I do, because I work in such a manner to love what I do. I love Tosca, but not with my soul.
Despre Opera: You served this very well, because many sopranos, for example Angela Gheorghiu, in the presentation of her DVD with Tosca, in 2011, like to say: I like Tosca because I am playing myself. They identify themselves not so much with Floria, but with the idea of diva. It is hard to say what a diva meant for Puccini in 1901 or for Sardou in 1887 or for the Roman society in 1801, or to say how much of the concept of diva of those times can be found in 2014…
Iano Tamar: Really, there are sopranos who say this? (she laughs)
Despre Opera: Your interpretation in Bucharest is not that of a diva singing about herself.
Iano Tamar: No, of course it isn’t.
Despre Opera: Your Tosca is very dramatic, she has a big, strong personality, but which manages to master all the situations, which imposes itself over Scarpia, which dominates the stage, which does not make a drama of every detail. You sang in a dramatic manner, that reminded me of Renatta Scotto.
Iano Tamar: Of Renatta Scotto? But this is incredible!!! (she laughs)
Despre Opera: Yes, yes, the recording with Scotto, Levine, Domingo, Bruson, from 1980. When I first listened to this version and I heard Scotto, I was not very impressed.
Iano Tamar: She was a little cold, wasn’t she?
Despre Opera: Yes, exactly, a little cold, and I could not understand why she was singing like this. But I remember I read some reviews saying that Scotto was very dramatic, that she gave a canto lesson in this recording. And I have to confess I could not understand why. But after seeing you, I started to understand why the French critics praised Renatta Scotto, only on Sunday evening I understood the reason for her being so appreciated, only after having heard you. I do not mean you have the same style of singing like her, but there is a certain similarity.
Iano Tamar: Thank you very much, I am very honoured to be compared to Scotto, who is a very big soprano!
Despre Opera: I think this manner of singing is more and more rare, this type of Tosca and this dramatic manner are, little by little, becoming history. The Tosca sung today is much more lyrical. Thank you for this performance. Such a pity you did not sing with Marcello Giordani. I would have liked to see you singing with him.
Iano Tamar: Yes, it is sad, I knew he was coming, we have already sung together – in Vienna, Rossini, Ernani by Verdi, he is an incredible person, I like him very much.
Despre Opera: Still, as far as I know, he will come for his recital, on June 17th. I thought that maybe he did not like the production and this is why he did not come, but the reason is not very important.
Iano Tamar: No, I don’t think so. In my opinion, he cancelled the opera performances because of health problems and because he wanted to have a break for his voice, and to be in shape for the recital. But this is very good, that he still comes!
Despre Opera: So, as Tosca, you have sung in four productions, in four different stagings. Did your manner of singing change according to the production?
Iano Tamar: No, I always sing in the same manner, the traditional one. And the most beautiful production in which I have sung was in Paris, by Werner Schroeter.
Despre Opera: A classical production?
Iano Tamar: Yes, but very elegant, I was very happy in that production.
Despre Opera: I liked the production in Bucharest. But a part of the audience, the more conservative one, did not like it very much.
Iano Tamar: The part I like the most in this production is the last act. Still, I have some reserves about it… and one of them is: why do we have to be so far away from the audience, on that platform? I like to challenge the audience, to be close to it.
Despre Opera: What do you think about the Romanian public?
Iano Tamar: They are great! The public I loved the most was in Paris, at Bastille. Here, the public is very warm, but is it is obvious that this is not the success I am used to. One can see very quickly if the audience likes it or not. Tosca is an opera that should pull the theatre down, or this was not the case in Bucharest. The public is an objective eye, irrespective of the country. If the applauses are loud, then the performance was very good, if the applauses are so and so, so was the performance. And if the public does not applaud at all, then the performance was… not at all… Here, in Bucharest, from my point of view, it was good, but no more than that… And I don’t think it is because of me, but because of the production – the way it was received by the public is clearly one of the reasons.
Despre Opera: In Romania, there is certainly a strong tradition of classical productions, the modern ones are very, very scarce. There are modern productions, but completely incomprehensible. It is not the case of this Tosca – it’s a production with a logical direction.
Iano Tamar: I totally agree with you. I never say that I don’t like a production, but it depends a lot on how I work with the director. I have worked with many directors, I sang in Verdi’s Requiem in a scenic version. And I said I would never do it again, because there was no communication between me and the director. And still, in the second act of this Tosca I would change some things – for instance, do you think Scarpia’s diabolic personality is obvious, or not?
Despre Opera: No, it is not obvious… But this Tosca is closer to Medeea. A Tosca who dominates Scarpia. And Scarpia is Tosca’s admirer, he looks at himself in the mirror when he sings Tosca e un bon falco, he believes himself to be a diva, just like Tosca, but when he has to torture Tosca, then she resists him and kills him, like a murderer, it is Medeea, it is not Tosca!
Iano Tamar: Yes, exactly! (she laughs heartily)
Despre Opera: After this scene, when Scarpia dies, you look in the mirror, just like him… That was awesome!!
Iano Tamar: Hahahaha!
Despre Opera: Of course, I speak for myself, not for the entire audience, at least for this production I might have been more open to challenges than other people in the public.
Iano Tamar: But you must know that I would have liked to be closer to the public at least for my aria, my only aria, but it was not possible, because, if I had moved, then the light would not have fallen on me properly… My only aria… Well, the idea is that I like to face the public, to confront the people in the auditorium, but, more precisely, to make a direct connection, a communication with them.
Despre Opera: Then, at the last performance, you can move towards the public…
Iano Tamar: Yes, I am not afraid to move on stage and to have directing initiatives, because I have worked with many directors, both in classical and modern productions, in fact I have more ideas in the modern ones, but when I have to sing in a production already made, I cannot do this… If I work in a production from the very beginning, if it is built with me, then I express my opinion, but in this case, I respect what has already been done. You see, if I changed something here, it would be out of context, it wouldn’t fit.
Despre Opera: Do you return often to Georgia, to sing there?
Iano Tamar: I sang there only once, at my debut, in 1989, in Un ballo in maschera, and then I left to study in Italy.
Despre Opera: The Georgians do not invite you to sing?
Iano Tamar: Yes and no, because things have changed, the generation today is more closed from the political point of view, many things have changed after the `90s, when we had no electricity, no gas. It was a very difficult period, people did not have money to buy food, so who would have thought of going to the opera… And though, the theatre and the opera were still working, even without heating and electricity, we went without money, we did what we could. The Georgians loved art, they were ready for sacrifices. I gave a concert, without money, of course. But now, people do not have time for culture, now they discuss politics. You probably know that the Russians are advancing on our territory… And many Georgians have left their country for Europe or America.
Despre Opera: We can imagine a link between our discussion and its beginning: a Tosca in the political climate of the `50s, in a communist Georgia, ruled by Stalin, with an opera singer called Tosca, in Tbilisi, with the dictator from Abuladze`s movie, with the priest in the movie, who is arrested, we can imagine a scenario for a Tosca in Eastern Europe, because there is a parallel, the communism did the same harm to all the peoples in this part of Europe… It’s an idea for a future Tosca! If you meet Peter Konwitchny again… By the way, he is extraordinary, his Don Carlos left me breathless…
Iano Tamar: It was wonderful!! I adore Konwitschny!! I owe him my activity on stage! Before meeting him, during rehearsals, I used to mark, I knew my energy would come out later, in front of the audience. And Konwitschny asked me to sing at rehearsals exactly like in the real performance. It was very difficult, but he put an engine in my body, so, ever since, when I come to rehearsals I am ready for work, as if I were mad. My colleagues tell me they have never seen something like this, that I give them this tension too, and they all start to work for me and like me.
Despre Opera: Well, Peter Konwitschny’s father, Franz Konwitschny, was a famous conductor and, anecdotally, it seems Peter had learned musical notes before learning the alphabet! So, you can think of this Tosca for Eastern Europe – Tosca, an artist from Tbilisi, Budapest, Bucharest…
Iano Tamar: Your imagination is incredible…
Despre Opera: Scarpia – an officer from the KGB or from the Romanian secret police..
Iano Tamar: I made Macbeth with Carsen, in Koln, then in Geneva (I sang at the premiere), it was placed exactly in this period, with the KGB, in a KGB office, Macbeth was a KGB hero. (she laughs)
Despre Opera: And a bearded painter, like the eastern artists during communism, or like Sandro Baratelli in Abuladze’s movie, or like the Romanian Constantin Brâncuși… As for the painting in the church – a Christian painting from the east, orthodox, byzantine. We can relate this to the story of the street, with the church. This can be very well presented in an eastern country. With singers who have left to sing in the big opera houses around the world and now they return to sing for a public that knows this history, their history… (laughs)
Edisher Giorgobiani, the Georgian actor who played the painter Sandro Baratelli in Tenghiz Abuladze’s movie Repentance.
Iano Tamar: This sounds miraculous, absolutely miraculous!!! There are, sometimes, magical moments like this one…
Despre Opera: Thank you very much for this dialogue. I must admit I feel it has been an exceptional discussion… And please, could you give an autograph for the readers of „Despre Opera”.
Iano Tamar: It has been my pleasure, and I thank you, too!