You know it by now—polyphonic singing is quite a big deal in Georgia. Although we didn’t invent the singing tradition, we’re recognized for it worldwide, to the point where Georgian polyphonic singing is considered an intangible heritage treasure by UNESCO.
Georgia has a rich singing tradition, vocal techniques have been cultivated for centuries, and we just really like booming voices. A lot.
Taking this into consideration, you shouldn’t be surprised about Georgian opera’s widespread popularity, as well as the recognition of Georgian singers in the most prestigious theatres of the world.
Starting with the famed Georgian Nightingale, Vano Sarajishvili, from the 20th century onwards, Georgia has polished a grand reputation as the birthplace of many vocal talents. By following traditional Georgian singing techniques and tips, many of these incredible performers continue to impress experts and aficionados with their heartfelt interpretations and melodious performances.
Take a look at some of the most well-known opera singers in the world, born and raised in Georgia.
01. Vano Sarajishvili (Operatic Tenor)
As mentioned beforehand, talking about Georgian opera prodigies is talking about the Georgian Nightingale.
Vano Sarajishvili, born in Sighnaghi in 1879, started his musical career in early childhood. He performed in the student choir of his school, then performing as a soloist. In 1903, he left Tbilisi for St. Petersburg to further continue his musical studies, eventually debuting in 1907 with Verdi’s La Traviata.
Afterward, his studies took him to Italy, where he mastered the now-lost art of Bel Canto before returning to Tbilisi. In Georgia, he performed masterpieces by classical European composers and brought forward pieces by Russian and Georgian authors. Eventually, Sarajishvili turned into Georgian opera’s most celebrated singer.
His most important role is, undoubtedly, that of Abesalom in Zacharia Paliashvili’s Abesalom da Eteri, although performed Georgian folk songs and is featured on films.
Tragically, Sarajishvili died young, at only 45 years. However, it’s such his influence in Georgia’s opera culture, that the country’s state conservatory bears his name. Undoubtedly, Sarajishvili continues to be the role model for every performer featured in this list.
02. Lamara Chkonia (Soprano)
Born in 1930, Lamara Chkonia is a living legend of Georgian opera and a renowned singer. Her beautiful voice and notorious talent had a permanent impact on Georgia, the Soviet Union, and every country she performed at.
Music has been by her side since childhood, as her family was known for their musical inclinations. To further her musical talents, she enrolled at the Tbilisi State Conservatoire, where she developed an Italian style of opera performance under the guidance of Valerian Cashelli, a prominent performer at La Scala.
Her unique voice and stage presence, made her grow in popularity within the Georgian opera scene, which eventually led her to perform as a soloist in the Kyiv National Opera and Ballet Theatre, starting her international career. From then on, she performed on numerous stages and won many competitions, including Bulgaria’s Sofia Competition and Japan’s Madama Butterfly, becoming the first Georgian female performer to receive international acclaim.
Her success in competitions and theatres worldwide led to many accolades from her native Soviet Union, including People’s Artist of USRR, professor of the Higher Academy of Music, Georgia’s Order of King Tamar, and Ukraine’s Order of St. Barbara. Likewise, her talent was renowned and recognized on performances for the most prominent figures of the past decade, including John F. Kennedy, Indira Gandhi, amongst many others.
03. Paata Burchuladze (Operatic Bass)
Born in 1955, Paata Burchuladze left his imprint in the Georgian opera scene thanks to his powerful dark voice, impeccable technique, and exceptional stage presence and performance.
Burchuladze started his musical studies in his native Tbilisi, specifically in the State Conservatory, under Olimpi Khelashvili. Avid to improve his already incredible talent, he continued his studies at the Bolshoi Theatre School, where he competed by performing in Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov.
After successfully debuting and performing multiple roles in Tbilisi and Moscow, in 1978, he departed to Milan, where he studied under Edoardo Mueller and Giulietta Simionato at the Teatro Alla Scala. Once there, he stood out for his roles as Zaccaria in Nabucco and Pagano in I Lombardi, amidst others.
After his career took off internationally, he spent the following 35 years performing in the world’s most prominent opera houses and winning multiple international competitions. Of particular interest is his exceptional performance as Ramfis in Verdi’s Aida, alongside Luciano Pavarotti and Katia Ricciarelli.
Beyond his presence in the Georgian opera and worldwide scene, Burchuladze is renowned for his charity work. His excellent compromise with these causes granted him the title of United Nations Goodwill Ambassador in 2006 and the UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador in 2010. Eventually, his social activism made way to politics, when he founded the State For The People political party within Georgia in 2016.
04. Zurab Lavrentievich Sotkilava (Tenor)
Zurab Lavrentievich Sotkilava was one of the most well-known tenors in the Soviet Union, Georgia, and across the region. His vocal prowess and exceptional technique made him the recipient of multiple accolades, particularly People’s Artist of the USSR, the Shota Rustaveli Prize, and numerous orders and state decorations across Georgia and Russia.
His vocals—deep, smooth, and exceptionally polished—were incomparable. His renditions of Giuseppe Verdi’s works were particularly praiseworthy and a favorite amidst the opera world, granting him the award of honorary member of the Academy of Music Bologna.
In his extensive career, he performed as a soloist in the Tbilisi Opera and Ballet Theatre, studied at La Scala, taught in the Moscow Conservatory, and took a seat as chairman in the International Tchaikovsky Competition.
After a life of achievements and success, Sotkilava passed away in 2017 at 80 years old, a consequence of pancreatic cancer diagnosed in 2015. Despite this, his presence and voice continue to live on through his achievements and successes.
05. Nino Machaidze (Soprano)
One of the most internationally-acclaimed Georgian opera singers, Nino Machaidze’s magnificent soprano voice and stage presence have made her an exceptionally breathtaking performer in every theatre she has performed.
Machaidze started dipping her toes in music by the tender age of six, through piano and vocal lessons. Her talents and commitment soon paid off, when she debuted in Tbilisi by performing the role of Gilda in Giuseppe Verdi’s Rigoletto, followed by Zerlina in Don Giovanni, Norina in Don Pasquale, and Rosina in The Barber of Seville, all of them in the Georgian National Opera Theater.
In 2005 she joined the Accademia del Teatro Alla Scala in Italy as a student, attending classes with some of the most prominent lyrical experts the world has to offer. Next year, her studies were rewarded when she performed in Gaetano Donizetti’s La fille du regiment as Marie in La Scala, cementing her international stardom.
Another highlight of her career would arrive in 2008, when she was cast as Juliette in Charles Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette at the Salzburg Festival, making her one of the most recognized performers in the opera world. She would perform at the Salzburg Festival once again in 2012, as Musetta in Giacomo Puccini’s La bohème.
06. Badri Maisuradze (Dramatic tenor)
Amidst all the successful Georgian opera performers of this list, Badri Maisuradze stands out for effectively branching out to management roles, including a high-ranking political positioning.
His musical career, however, remains exceptional. He began as a dramatic actor and successfully performed on multiple stage and film productions, before landing a singing role. His impressive voice gained the attention of Zurab Andzhaparidze, a famed singer himself, leading to a career change.
By the start of the 90s, he had graduated from the Sarajishvili State Conservatory and Shota Rustaveli Theatre and Film State University. He went on to continue his studies in Milan and Moscow.
From then on, his career never stopped. He performed as a soloist at Tbilisi State Opera, where he debuted by playing the leading role in Otar Taktakishvili’s Mindia. Maisuradze then moved on to the Bolshoi Theatre from 1995 to 2016. Likewise, he has won a plethora of international contests, such as the Bjorling Vocalists Contest in Sweden or Spain’s Francisco Viñas International Singing Contest.
He is also renowned as a professor and international jury in competitions. Most notably, he occupies the position of First Deputy Minister of Education, Science, Culture, and Sports in Georgia since 2019.
07. Anita Rachvelishvili (Mezzo-soprano)
Considered the best Verdi mezzo-soprano nowadays, this Tbilisi native keeps conquering stages all over the world.
Born from a dancer mother and a composer father, music is in her veins. Her musical studies began with the piano, as she took lessons in the Mikhran Machavariani School, only to soon study singing at the Tbilisi State Conservatory, with the help of a scholarship awarded by Mikheil Saakashvili’s office during his tenure as president of the country. As a student, she debuted in her natal city as Maddalena in Verdi’s Rigoletto.
In 2007, she started her studies in the Teatro Alla Scala, which eventually lead to her debut on that same stage by taking the titular role in Bizet’s Carmen. The performance was broadcast worldwide and stunned audiences and experts alike, allowing her to reprise the position at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, the Royal Opera House in London, at the Arena di Verona, and many other stages. Equally famous is her role as Amneris in Verdi’s Aida, praised worldwide for her performance.
However, Rachvelishvili doesn’t forget her roots. She promotes Georgian opera whenever possible, performs within her country regularly, and has proclaimed an intense desire to make Georgian folk music well-known and respected outside of the country’s borders.
08. George Andguladze (Operatic bass)
Born in 1984 and raised in Tbilisi, George Adguladze has been immersed in the music world since birth and became one of Georgia’s most recognized operatic bass performers.
By the time he was six years old, he had started singing in the Georgian Folklore Choir, and in 1994 he became the youngest soloist to date in the Tbilisi Philharmonic. In 1999 Andguladze concluded his piano studies in the Zurab Andjaparidze Music School. Upon the arrival of the new millennium, he received a scholarship from the Georgian government at the hand of Eduard Shevardnadze.
Upon concluding his studies in orchestral and chorus conducting and receiving the corresponding master’s degree, he traveled to Italy to continue his studies at the Conservatory of Reggio Emilia. His debut took place in 2009, playing the role of Buonafede in Haydn’s Il Mondo Della Luna.
From then on, it has been success after success, particularly in his roles as Escamillo in Carmen, and Stiffelio and Ramfis in different productions of Aida.
09. Nino Surguladze (Mezzo-soprano)
Born in Tbilisi in 1977, Nino Surguladze is recognized as one of the best performers to assume Carmen’s eponymous role and a lead mezzo-soprano worldwide. She is referred continuously by reporters as the Penélope Cruz of the opera, a nickname with origins in her striking physical similarities to the actress, as well as the notorious success of both in their respective fields.
Surguladze explored her musical talents from early youth, as she took part in multiple musicals and performances, before graduating from the Children’s Music School in Tbilisi. Subsequently, she debuted at age 7, singing for the Philharmonic in Tbilisi. Her endeavors also led her to participate in several movies, eventually winning the “Espoir du Cinéma Européen” prize at the Geneva Film Festival in 1995.
After a successful musical career in her country, Surguladze chose to perform in Georgian opera, leading to her enrollment in the Tbilisi State Conservatoire. After winning multiple awards, she continued her studies at the Accademia Teatro Alla Scala in 2003, debuting as Marie in Rossini’s Moise et Pharaon.
From then on, Surguladze has played a plethora of iconic roles, including her revered performances as Carmen, Maddalena in Rigoletto, and Romeo in I Capuleti e I Montecchi. In 2016, she won the best mezzo-soprano for her role of Fenena in Verdi’s Nabucco at the Arena di Verona.
10. Mikheil Sheshaberidze (Tenor)
A native from Kaspi, Mikheil Sheshaberidze is yet another outstanding Georgian opera singer from the Vano Sarajishvili State Conservatory, from where he graduated in 2006. Following his success there, Sheshaberidze went on to attend multiple masterclasses with renowned singers, and take part in the International Vocal Academy “Renata Tebaldi e Mario del Monaco”.
Sheshaberidze started to gain attention after he ranked third in the “Gaetano Fraschini” competition for young singers, taking place in 2011. Next year, he achieved third place in the “La Citta Sonora 2012” International Lyric Contest in Italy. Afterward, he performed multiple roles to match his rich and powerful tenor vocals.
Some of his most well-known roles have been Pinkerton in Puccini’s Madame Butterfly, Don Alvaro in Forza del Destino, Don José in Carmen, amongst many others. Sheshaberidze received worldwide acclaim for his performance at the Arena di Verona during 2016, particularly for his outstanding role as Carmen’s Don José.