The history of the State Opera House of Georgia counts 165 years. The foundation of the so called Caravanserai Theatre, which would seat 800 spectators, was laid down on April 15, 1847 by the initiative of the Viceroy of the Caucasus, Adjutant General, Prince Mikhail Vorontsov. The construction of the building of the Theatre, under the supervision of the Italian architect, Scudieri lasted four years.
On April 12, 1851, the first opera theater in Transcaucasia held its Grand Opening with a masked ball, attended by the high society of Tbilisi. On October 25, same year, a popular Parisian newspaper L'Illustration printed a large article by Edmond de Bares with two pictures of the interior of the theater. The author wrote, “This is the only theatre in the city, the interior of which is totally Moorish in style, and is undoubtedly one of the most elegant, beautiful and fascinating theatrical constructions, percepted by man.”
The famous French writer Alexandre Dumas, who visited Tbilisi in 1858, dedicated a whole chapter to the Opera theatre in his book: “I must confess that as soon as I entered the lobby I was astonished by the simple and refined style of the ornament. I had a feeling as I entered the lobby of the Pompey Theatre. In the upper foyer the ornament was changed by Arabic carving. We entered the hall, which seemed to be the palace of fairies, not because of its rich decorations, but because of the fact that it was made with the most delicate taste. It is possible that much money was not spent on it, but I can say without hesitation that I, in my entire life, have never seen such a delightful hall..."
On November 9, 1851, a specially invited Italian troupe, under the conductorship of Barbieri, opened the first theatrical season in Tbilisi with Lucia di Lammermoor by Gaetano Donizetti. After the performance, which had a great success, the hosts led Barbieri and the troupe to the left bank of the Mtkvari (Kura) River for a public feast, where people celebrated on boats for the whole night.
Over the course of three months Barbieri made 12 different opera productions, among them: Ernani by Giuseppe Verdi, Norma by Vincenzo Bellini, Il barbieri de Siviglia by Gioachino Rossini and others. It is known that young Leo Tolstoy was among the guests, who attended the first performances of the Tbilisi Opera House. Teresa Stolz, who later became Verdi’s favourite soprano, made her operatic debut here in 1857.
For the second season of the newly opened Opera House, in 1852, St. Petersburg Ballet Company (featuring F. Manokhin and E. Panov) was invited to Tbilisi. The company presented the second act of Tagliani’s ballet La Sylphide and Polka-Vengerka. This was the first ballet performance in Tbilisi. A year later Fedor Manokhin staged the second act of Giselle. The first full-version ballet La Gitana by Auber/ Schmidt, with choreography by F. Taglioni followed in 1854, by Manokhin again.
Italian composers Bellini, Donizetti, Rossini and Verdi were very popular among the music lovers in Tbilisi. At that time Italy had a national liberation war with the Austrian Empire, so the patriotic spirit of the great composers’ musical works was very familiar to Georgians, who also fought against the Russian Empire.
Highly artistic and famous operas, which were staged in Europe, were performed at the Tbilisi Opera House quite soon after the original productions. The opera became people’s beloved show in Tbilisi. Taking into consideration all these circumstances, it was decided to establish a permanent opera troupe.
On October 11, 1874 Tbilisi Opera House was destroyed by the fire. Merchant Kazarov, who was accused of setting fire, was sentenced to 9 years of imprisonment in Siberia. But there were speculations about the involvement of top administrators. Opera moved to the ‘summer stage’ for 22 years. At this time a Russian composer Ipolitov-Ivanov became the director of the theatre; a Russian composer Pyotr Tchaikovsky visited Georgia in 1886-1890; and a Great Russian singer, Feodor Chaliapin received his ‘stage baptism’ in Tbilisi too.
In 1896 on the Golovin Prospect (now Rustaveli Avenue) the construction of the new Opera House, designed by the architect Victor Schröter, was finished. The new building was calculated to have a seating capacity of 1200 (the present building of the Opera Theatre). This so called Treasury Theatre was opened on November 3, 1896 with Glinka’s opera A Life for the Tzar.
In the 80s and 90s of the 19th century Tbilisi saw performances of St. Petersburg Emperor Ballet Theatre, which featured Sofia Fedorova, Isadora Duncan, Vera Fokina and Mikhail Fokine. Here in Tbilisi Mikhail Fokine staged his first innovatory ballets, which afterwards brought him the recognition in Paris, in Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes.
The stage of the Tbilisi Opera House was the venue for the foreign debut of Maria Perini, who studied under the Italian ballet dancer and teacher Enrico Cecchetti. She was the first to perform 32 consecutive fouettés for the Georgian audience. In 1897-1907, she was prima ballerina at the Tbilisi Opera and Ballet Theatre. Her name is closely connected with the foundation of Georgian Ballet School.
Famous opera and ballet groups used to perform on this stage at various times: Italian Opera (1897-1898, 1910), Vienna Empire Operetta (1903), Moscow and St. Petersburg comic operas (1907), St. Petersburg Empire Ballet (1907-1908, 1913). The brilliant singers of the 19th and 20th centuries used to sing there: Chaliapin, Sibiryakov, Davydov, Sobinov, Ruffo, Giraldoni, etc.
The Tbilisi Philharmonic Society, founded in 1905, staged Russian and West European operas in the Georgian language, thus contributing to further democratization of opera art and attracting wider layers of the society.
All this, together with the Georgian singing and poetic traditions, contributed to the creation of the Georgian national opera.
The first Georgian opera is connected to the name of Meliton Balanchivadze (father of George Balanchine). Fragments of his opera Tamar Tsbieri (Tamar the Wily) were performed on December 20, 1897 in St. Petersburg, though at the Tbilisi Opera Theatre its full production was only made in 1925-1926. The first Georgian opera, performed on the stage of the Tbilisi Opera House, was Christine by Revaz Gogniashvili (June 17, 1918), though the first classic examples of this genre are believed to be the operas staged in 1919 on the stage of the Tbilisi Opera Theatre: on February 5, Dimitry Arakishvili’s Legend of Shota Rustaveli, on February 21, Zakaria Paliashvili’s Abesalom and Eteri, on December 11, Victor Dolidze’s Keto and Kote.
These operas, from the very first performances have determined the national image of the Georgian Opera. Abesalom and Eteri by Zakaria Paliashvili has traditionally been the opening performance of the season at the Tbilisi State Opera and Ballet Theatre. Since 1937 the Opera House is named after the Georgian classicist and the greatest composer of all time, Zakaria Paliashvili.
The first classic ballet Mzechabuki (Heart of the mountains) by Andria Balanchivadze was staged in 1936 by Vakhtang Chabukiani, the greatest dancer and ballet-master of all time, one of the reformers of classical male dancing, nicknamed as “a wizard of dance”. Chabukiani founded Georgian Ballet art and influenced it for a long time. From 1929-1941 he worked at the Kirov Opera and Ballet (Mariinsky), performing all leading roles from the classical repertoire. Chabukiani returned to Tbilisi in 1941 and managed the Opera and Ballet State Theatre Ballet Company until 1973, as well as created classic examples Georgian ballets. The distinguished ballet actors have danced on the stage of Tbilisi Opera and Ballet Theatre:Lili Gvaramadze, Vera Tsignadze, Irina Aleksidze, Maria Bauer, Eter Chabukiani, Irina Jandieri, Liliana Mitaishvili, Zurab Kikaleishvili, Bakar Monavardisashvili, Tengiz Sanadze, Jarji Maghalashvili.
Vakhtang Chabukiani led the Tbilisi Choreographic School during 1950-1973. Some of the school graduates are world-acclaimed ballet dancers and ballet-masters: Nino Ananiashvili, Irma Nioradze, Igor Zelinski, Nika Tsiskaridze, Elene Glurjidze, Davit Makhateli, Davit and Lasha Khozashvilis, Vasil Akhmeteli and others.
The Tbilisi Opera House is proud of such wonderful soloists (who created and continued traditions of the Georgian opera school) as: Vano Sarajishvili, Sandro Inashvili, Niko Kumsiashvili, Davit Andghuladze, Petre Amiranashvili, Davit Gamrekeli, Davit Mchdelishvili, Batu Kraveishvili, Nadezhda Kharadze, Nadezhda Tsomaia, Vera Davidova, Meri Nakashidze, Zurab Anjaparidze, Nodar Andghuladze, Lamara Chkonia, Medea Amiranashvili, Tamar Gurgenidze, Tsisana Tatishvili, Paata Burchuladze, Temur Gugushvili, Liana Kalmakhelidze, Jemal Mdivani, Eldar Getsadze, Makvala Kasrashvili, Zurab Sotkilava, Badri Maisuradze, Valerian Gamgebeli, Lado Ataneli, Gia Gagnidze, Naira Glunchadze, Eter Chkonia (Eter Lamorisi), Iano Alibegashvili (Iano Tamari), Nana Kavtarashvili (Miriani), Nino Surguladze, Tamar Javakhishvili (Tamar Iveri), Nino Machaidze and others. Famous Georgian conductors used to work in Tbilisi Opera and Ballet Theatre: Ivane Paliashvili, Evgeni Mikeladze, Odyssey Dimitriadi, Vakhtang Paliashvili, Didim Mirtskhulava, Zaqaria Khurodze, Jansug Kakhidze; Directors: Aleksandre Tsutsunava, Kote Marjanishvili, Sandro Akhmeteli, Vakhtang Tabliashvili, Mikheil Tumanishvili, Giga Lortkipanidze, Gizo Zhordania, Guram Meliva, Robert Sturua, David Sakvarelidze; Artists: Valerian Sidamon-Eristavi, Sergo Kobuladze, Tamar Abakelia, SolikoVirsaladze, Ivane Askurava, Parnaoz Lapiashvili, Iuri Gegeshidze, Gogi Alexi-Meskhishvili, Muraz Murvanidze and others.
Since the 30’s of the 20th century Georgian operas were performed not only on the stage of the Tbilisi Opera House, but also abroad (in Russia, Ukraine, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Poland, Germany, France, Bulgaria, Hungary, Czech Republic, and Slovakia). The Tbilisi opera and ballet companies had triumphant tours in a lot of countries, participated successfully in international festivals and forums. World famous opera singers, conductors, dancers have frequently been the welcome guests of the Tbilisi Theatre stage.
At the beginning of the 70s the ballet company had a new artistic director – George Aleksidze, Fyodor Lopukhov’s student. Aleksidze brought new aesthetics to the theatre - neoclassical ballets became a part of the repertoire along with classical works. The company’s next artistic director through 1982-1985 was Mikhail Lavrovsky, the internationally known Bolshoi Theatre dancer and choreographer.
The important episodes of the artistic biography of the famous Georgian conductor Djansugh Kakhidze are also connected to the Tbilisi Opera Theatre. He came there as a conductor in 1962; later he became a principal conductor (1965-68) and artistic director (1982-2002).
After the fire in 1973 almost the whole interior of the building was destroyed - the very famous, stunning curtain by Sergo Kobuladze, costumes, stage properties, details, museum items, archive materials were burnt. In 1978, the theatre building was restored to its original form (architects: Leri Medzmariashvili, Murtaz Chachanidze). The authors of the reconstruction have succeeded in maintaining the Eastern, pseudo-Moorish style of the building. Six rehearsal halls were made (three of them – for ballet, two – for opera and one - for orchestra). In the foyer of the Theatre, three remarkable halls, the so-called Red Hall, Mirror/Blue Halls, hosted vocal and chamber concerts, exhibitions and meetings of various kinds.
In 1986-2004 the general manager of the theatre was Zurab Lomidze, who was followed by the director David Sakvarelidze (2004-2012); the conductor Giorgi Zhordania (General Manager) and Giorgi Kiladze (director of the theatre) were the heads of the theatre after him. In 2005-2009 conductor Zaza Azmaiparashvili was the artistic director. In 2011-2014 – the music director and principal conductor was Gianluca Marciano. In 2014-16 the artistic director was Davit Kintsurashvili and the General Manager was Alexandre Motsonelidze.
Since 2004, an outstanding ballerina, Nina Ananiashvili has been the artistic director of the State Ballet of Georgia. The repertoire now includes ballets by Balanchine, Ashton, Bournonville, Kylián, as well as works of contemporary choreographers, well known choreographers and ballet masters like Mikhail Lavrovsky, Frank Andersen, Alexander Grant, Bart Cook, Denis Bonner, Margaret Barbieri, Trey McIntyre, Alexei Fadeyechev, Yuri Possokhov, Ben Stevenson, Nancy Euverink, Ken Ossola, Patrick Delcroix, Brigitte Martin work with the company; costumes and scenery are prepared by Alexandre Vassiliev, Vyacheslav Okunev, David Monavardisashvili; performances in Tbilisi are often conducted by Sergei Stadler, Alexander Sotnikov, Robert Cole; actors who perform alongside the State Ballet of Georgia include Ángel Corella, Andrei Uvarov, Sergei Filin, Igor Zelensky, Irma Nioradze, Tamara Rojo, David Makhateli, Maia Makhateli, Elena Glurjidze, etc.
The huge international project of repairing the theatre building started in 2010 (architect Leri Medzmariashvili). Apart from the international foundation Kartu, which was the major sponsor, some other foreign companies (Gerriets and Salzbrenner Media, Germany; Wagner, Austria; Svetlost, Serbia) also took part in the process.
The foundation was strengthened; the roof was covered with copper sheets. the painting of the theatre interior, stage mechanism, the material and technical equipment of the theatre was renewed, the orchestra pit became larger, Djansug Kakhidze rehearsal hall was rebuilt, open verandas and a space for exhibitions were added. The garden around the theatre, where composer Zakaria Paliashvili, tenors: Vano Sarajishvili and Zurab Anjaparidze and conductor Odyssey Dimitriadi are buried, became larger. The “visiting card” of the theatre, the iconic stage curtain created by Sergo Kobuladze in 1960, which was burned in fire, returned to the stage recreated.
After 5 years of the renovation, the whole Georgia, as well as 700 members of the staff with their Artistic Director of the Theatre Davit Kintsurashvili celebrated a grandiose re-opening of the theatre.