George Gagnidze on Singing His First Nabucco at the Metropolitan Opera

One of opera’s foremost singers, baritone George Gagnidze opened the Metropolitan Opera’s 2023-24 season with his vastly acclaimed portrayal of Nabucco, the title role in Verdi’s early masterpiece. He has returned for a second run of performances beginning on December 29 and ending on January 26. I am grateful that he took the time to share his excitement and insightful thoughts about singing this complex role on a stage that he knows and loves. For detailed information about George Gagnidze, please click on the link at the end of this interview. And don’t miss experiencing his tour-de-force performance, a formidable and nuanced interpretation of one of the greatest baritone roles of all time.

George Gagnidze in the title role of Verdi’s Nabucco at the Metropolitan Opera – Photo by Marty Sohl 

What does it mean for you to sing Nabucco at the Metropolitan Opera for the first time? 

Nabucco is a role I have sung very often in my career, but performing this iconic part at the Met is something very special. The Met has been the most important opera house for me for the last fifteen years and it is an honor to have been entrusted all these performances this season. We have had six wonderful shows in September and October, and now, from December 29, another run of Nabucco awaits us, eight shows this time, including the Live in HD transmission on January 6.

George Gagnidze in the title role of Verdi’s Nabucco at the Metropolitan Opera – Photo by Marty Sohl 

What is special for you about the role of Nabucco? 

Nabucco is Verdi’s real first big baritone role. His first opera, Oberto, was written essentially for a bass (basso cantante) and his second opera, Un giorno di regno, presented some baritoni brillanti and buffos. Then comes Nabucco, which contains, in nuce, all the traits and characteristics of all the great baritone roles to come: a tessitura considerably higher than most Donizetti baritones, for example, moments where a very good legato is required alternating with others calling for more determined declamation. He must show and exude authority, villainy, ferocity as well as extreme vulnerability and frailty, both with his voice and his acting. Nabucco is like a microcosmos of human emotions, anticipating other Verdi fathers such as Foscari and above all Rigoletto.

You have been singing at the Metropolitan Opera since the 2008-2009 season. What do you love about performing on this stage? 

I made my debut here at the Met in the 2008-2009 season as Rigoletto and have since interpreted a good number of roles: Macbeth, Scarpia, Amonasro, Alfio in Cavalleria rusticana, Tonio in Pagliacci, Michele in Il tabarro, Shaklovity in Khovanshchina. I think I got to know this opera house and this audience quite well. They have always been so warm towards me. When you keep coming to a place like the Met year after year, you get to know everyone offstage, and they feel almost like part of your family. Yes, you may say the Met has been like my second home. Definitely, it has been my artistic home.

George Gagnidze – Photo by Dario Acosta

How do you feel about New York City? 

I love New York City. It is such an exciting city with such a rich offer in regard to culture. I love Central Park in particular, where I enjoy taking long walks that help me relax completely.

How do you think that your education and early life in Georgia have prepared you for such a great career?

My father was part of a male chorus in Georgia, a country with an extremely rich choral tradition. A friend of my father from the choir heard me sing one day and suggested that I should be sent to a proper voice teacher, and that was the beginning. Also, I had become enamored with a video of L’elisir d’amore with Pavarotti I had seen on television, and I think that made me fall in love with opera.

For people who want to know more about Georgia and its music and culture, what would you tell them?

I would tell them to visit the country if they can. There is so much to explore and to discover! For example, not too many people may know that we have had an opera house in Tbilisi since 1851, and that since 1896 operas have been staged in the beautiful theatre built by Viktor Schröter, who also was the architect of the National Opera of Ukraine in Kiev. Our opera house in Tbilisi is named after Zacharia Paliashvili, the most important Georgian composer who wrote, among other masterpieces, our “national opera,” Abesalom da Eteri, which contains elements from Georgian folk songs and traditional 19th-century Romantic music elements. It even was used for the National Anthem of Georgia, which consists of parts from this opera.

What are your favorite roles and why?

Although I love all the roles I have performed, Verdi is my number one composer, no doubt about it. Nobody understood the immense possibilities and the characteristics of the baritone voice like he did. His baritones are not just villains like in other composers’ operas. Yes, some may have a villainous side, but Verdi always stresses that this less palatable aspect is intertwined with the complexities of human nature, and it’s not just a black-and-white situation. Of all his creations, the most sublime is Rigoletto. He is simply one of the most staggering, astonishing characters ever created by the human mind. Yes, the prototype belongs to Victor Hugo, but Verdi and his sublime music have made him immortal.

Top: George Gagnidze – Photo by Dario Acosta

Discover more about George Gagnidze

See George Gagnidze as Nabucco at the Met through January 26

About Maria-Cristina Necula (184 Articles)
Maria-Cristina Necula’s published work includes the books "The Don Carlos Enigma: Variations of Historical Fictions" and "Life in Opera: Truth, Tempo and Soul," two translations: "Europe à la carte" and Molière’s "The School for Wives," and the collection of poems "Evanescent." Her articles and interviews have been featured in "Classical Singer" Magazine, "Opera America," "Das Opernglas," "Studies in European Cinema," and "Opera News." As a classically trained singer she has performed in the New York City area at Weill Hall at Carnegie Hall, Merkin Hall, Florence Gould Hall, and the Westchester Broadway Theatre, and has presented on opera at The Graduate Center, Baruch, The City College of New York, and UCLA Southland. She speaks six languages, two of which she honed at the Sorbonne University in Paris and the University of Vienna, and she holds a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from The Graduate Center, CUNY. In 2022, Maria-Cristina was awarded a New York Press Club Award in the Critical Arts Review category for her review of Matthew Aucoin's "Eurydice" at the Metropolitan Opera, published on Woman Around Town. She is a 2022-24 Fellow of The Writers' Institute at The Graduate Center.