This past Thursday night, Russian could be heard echoing through the halls of IAB. This was not a simple run-of-the-mill discussion on the Cold War or the Russian geopolitical threat. It was something much classier! Up and coming opera sensation, Anita Rachvelishvili, was there to discuss her life and what it’s like to be a star. We sent Bwog’s very own opera enthusiast, Claire Friedman, to work on hitting her high C#.
I believe my Music Humanities professor said it best when he told our class, “you can’t appreciate the true talent of an opera singer until you’ve sat in the nosebleed seats at the Met.” The next week, as my class watched Carmen from seats so high we could practically touch the ceiling, I learned that he was right. Although I struggled to discern any facial features at such a distance, the title character’s un-microhoned voice was so loud that it might have been coming from the seat next to me. This was the first time I would hear the staggeringly impressive voice of Anita Rachvelishvili. The second time would be in a poorly lit room in the International Affairs building, where she graced us with her presence earlier this week.
Anita Rachvelishvili is every inch the diva that one would expect. With dark hair and bright red lipstick, she looks delightfully as if she might burst into Carmen’s theme music at any moment. But Anita has much more than the hair of Disney villain; she also has a voice so spectacular that she is one of the youngest opera singers to ever take on the role of Carmen. Indeed, she says that she plans to stay with Carmen for several years in part because her voice is not yet mature enough for other roles.
Anita’s rise to operatic fame started at the tender age of seventeen. Born in Georgia to a composer father and a ballerina mother, Anita has been surrounded by music her entire life. Her love of singing came naturally and was encouraged to such a degree that the need to create music became “like breathing.” Surprisingly, though, Anita wasn’t interested in opera singing; instead, she spent the formative years of her life obsessed with rock music. Led Zeppelin, she says, is still her go-to music choice. And now I invite you to picture this: the darling of the Metropolitan Opera, belting out “Stairway to Heaven” in the privacy of her apartment.
When Anita turned seventeen, her father brought her to her first opera lesson. Like nothing she’d ever heard before, Georgian opera instantly enchanted Anita. She poured hours into each practice session and, within months, her teachers began to take notice of her talents. Soon, Anita was being shuttled around the Mediterranean by her delighted father, visiting the best vocal coaches, language tutors, and even one man who specialized in fixing opera singers’ postures.
After performing in several small productions, Anita took her talents to a place familiar to every notebook-wielding Music Humanities student: the Metropolitan Opera. When Anita first auditioned at the Met, she wasn’t trying for the part of Carmen. Instead, she had her sights set on a much smaller role; one so small, in fact, that she had to audition with one of Carmen’s songs because her character didn’t have enough pieces to sing. In a moment that can only be described as a stroke of fairytale luck, the show’s director ushered her backstage and asked her to accept the opera’s eponymous role.
But wait! There’s more! Although Anita is trained in the traditional Italian style, the director of Carmen needed her to learn French. Upon receiving the role of a lifetime, Anita was jetsetted off to Paris to study the language. Her pronunciation is perfect…even if she doesn’t know what she is saying. Though she can sing beautiful French songs with perfect inflection, she must study their meanings in her native tongue to absorb any meaning from them.
At this point in the lecture, the man to my left raised his hand and asked a question in Russian. Anita responded in Russian, and the entire lecture dissolved into rapidfire Russian conversation. I found myself looking around thinking, “am I really the only one here that doesn’t speak Russian?” Everybody else seemed to be following the course of conversation perfectly as I sat quietly and waited to switch back to English.
Anita is not what you would expect from an opera star. Although she looks the part, her boisterous personality and penchant for rock music make her really stand out in her field.
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