Mikhail Pandzhavidze: “Everyone Gets Up to Go to Work, and I Am Felling Sleepy”

Chief Stage Director of the Bolshoi Theatre of Belarus Mikhail Pandzhavidze has an exciting and interesting life. He began as a violinist, after that he graduated from the Directing Department of the Russian State Institute of Theatre Arts GITIS (Department of Musical Theatre) and the world got to know him as a talented and always unpredictable stage director. At the Astana Opera he is preparing the premiere of Y. Brusilovsky’s opera Kyz Zhibek, which will be held on February 10 and 11.

_DSC3399– Stage Director is, above all, an interpreter. How do you interpret the opera Kyz Zhibek?

– This work is self-sufficient. My colleagues usually try to look for a black cat in a dark room, especially when it is not there, and they all try to find hidden meanings, ambiguous images. In fact, everything is much simpler. It is all written in the work itself, we just need to stage it. Of course, every director has a certain position in regards to the characters, his or her views on what happened between the people. That’s what the interpretation is. Our main achievement is that we have moved forward from the genre of musical performance, and have tried to translate it to the language of contemporary opera.

– What do you mean when you talk about the language of the contemporary opera?

– Our listeners are spoiled with all kinds of spectacles, including related art forms, among them theatre. For example, when seeing silent movie actors, one always wants to laugh at least a little bit, unless it is Charlie Chaplin. But the actors do not play as used to before; I think that C. Chaplin himself would not play that way anymore, if he was with us today. The same situation is with the opera Kyz Zhibek: trying to revive the previous productions does not make sense. In the process, we have said that we need ‘the principle of reasonable sufficiency’, ‘we should be like surgeons and do no harm’. However, there is a risk to overdo it and stay in line with the ‘traditions’. That way a boring performance can be created. As Voltaire once said – ‘All genres are good except the boring one’.

I tried to interpret this work through the prism of human relationships. By removing superficial one-dimensional images, where one is the villain, the other is the positive hero, and the third is the lyrical heroine. From the pictorial point of view, an abundance of high-tech stage effects will be presented here. We must not forget that the people who come to the opera house will be expecting something amazing, a sense of wonder, a certain unreality, occurring in real life.


– Is it difficult to stage a national opera?

– I was always very much interested in the experience working on the national productions. When I was preparing for the staging, I learned a lot about the culture of the Kazakh people. Each new production is an improvement of oneself.

– You said that the characters will not be one-dimensional; does this include the main heroine as well?

– The portrayal of the main heroine acquires a mystical side: the change of seasons is subjected to her. And even Zhibek’s death will not be seen as physical departure, but as the change of seasons – the onset of winter and the beginning of the New Year – the eternal renewal.

– Tell us your opinion regarding Tolegen’s rival – Bekezhan. Based on the fact that love can be cruel, overshadowing the human mind, is it possible to thus justify Bekezhan’s actions?

– No. You cannot do anything you want in the name of love. Love is being ready to give up your own life for another without hesitation, rather than take someone else’s. So I do not condone Bekezhan, even though we tried to make him a conscientious man, aware of the concept of honor, not to show him as some kind of ‘highway bandit’. In a fit of jealousy and rage, Bekezhan shoots Tolegen in the back, killing him. Then he repents, almost losing his mind.

– It appears that you have mixed feelings towards Tolegen.

– I think that the conflict with Tolegen’s father Bazarbay has led to the death of the protagonist. If he had not disobeyed his father and left to travel through the steppe, where human life is virtually worthless, alone, without escort and almost unarmed, he, perhaps, would not have died. Parents should remember that children are not their toys, but people, to whom they have given life. It is not up to the parents to decide whom their children should marry.

– Is it difficult to get the singers to act with authenticity?

– Only if you are not a professional musical theatre stage director. If the director does not understand the nature of the singing actor, if he or she did not receive professional training, did not work in the theatre for several years, honing his or her skills, it is difficult. Everything depends on the degree of the individual’s talent. Insight and intuition are among the most important components of directing. To know this, you have to be a very good psychologist; you need to feel for yourself what it is like to be an actor by working in this capacity for more than a year. I am not speaking of this by an accident, as our profession is now full of amateurs. Even though I am a professional musician, it has never occurred to me to stage ballets, nor do I attempt to get up on the conductor’s stand. Why does every other one of my colleagues from related professions consider it possible to come to the opera and begin staging it? Opera is the most difficult form of directing.

It is not difficult to get the authenticity from the artists; they will do everything on their own. You should make sure that they gasp and say, “How could we not have seen this ourselves.” This is the skill of the director; it should be learned, while having a natural talent.

– Did you quickly find a common language with Kazakhstani artists?

– I know Kazakhstani artists very well; I have worked with them many times. The professional level of the singers, actors and musicians is very high right now. All the vocalists have a second profession of instrumentalists, conductors are very good theorists. Artists undergo training in Italy, they know several languages. Everyone comes perfectly prepared. It is amazing how young and advanced the company is!

– What do you think about our winter?

– When I was leaving Belarus, it was – 28 °C there. Therefore, the cold weather does not scare me. However, the difference in time zones is unsettling for me. Everyone gets up to go to work, and I am feeling sleepy. Everyone goes to bed, and I just want to rehearse…

– Do you like our cuisine?

– I got to know it back in 2010, now it is like a native cuisine to me. I did not go back yet, and I already have requests: to bring kazy, Kazakhstani chocolate and other traditional sweets.


Mikhail Pandzhavidze is a laureate of the State Prize of the Republic of Tatarstan named after G. Tukai, recipient of the Medal of the Order of Francysk Skaryna, laureate of the special prize of the President of the Republic of Belarus, winner of the National Theatre of the Republic of Belarus Prize, Chief Stage Director of the National Academic Bolshoi Opera and Ballet Theatre of the Republic of Belarus.


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