“For eleven years of his career on the stage of the USSR Bolshoi Theatre he was … the best Herman, the best Radames, the best José. Whatever the singer undertook, he created, and did it in a thorough, unhurriedly, with a sense of enormous responsibility and his own artistic dignity.” This is how the outstanding Irina Arkhipova described the performing art of Zurab Anjaparidze who was one her perennial partners at the Bolshoi Theatre. Thousands of spectators and listeners could not help but agree to her appraisal. Anjaparidze’s voice preserved on tape still resonates with the beauty of its sound, wealth of its timbre with an inimitable Italian flavour, emotional fullness of every character he went through. Like Feodor Chaliapin, Ivan Yershov and other great opera artists, Anjaparidze precisely lived on stage. He created a vivid psychological portrait of a character, often carrying his stage partners with him, and then no one thought of him as a “tenor with great highs.” His magnificent technique and extraordinary power of voice moved away to the background, and the audience watched a living character imbued with strong feelings and passion.
Zurab Anjaparidze was a lucky find for the country’s major theatre exactly as an heir to the Italian singing tradition. Born in 1928 in Kutaisi, he graduated from the Tbilisi Conservatory under well-known singer and vocal pedagogue David Andguladze who was educated in the school of Italian bel canto. Seven years at the Tbilisi Opera and Ballet (one of the best in the former Soviet Union; it launched the careers of many celebrated singers and conductors) were a very important school of professional mastership to the young singer. In 1957, Zurab Anjaparidze won the second prize at the World Festival of Youth and Students, and in the same year he debuted at the Bolshoi as José. However, he was invited to join the troupe of the theatre only two years later after Mario del Monaco appeared in Carmen at the Bolshoi. The roles of José and Radames (Aida) became Anjaparidze’s trademarks, and during his first seasons in Moscow the singer took the place of the leading heroic tenor of the opera company in classical repertoire.
Anjaparidze performed the characters of Faust, Don Carlos, Cavaradossi (judging by the featured recordings, the style of Italian verismo was particularly near his heart), was one of the few who was able to sing the part of Otello, the most difficult one in the Italian repertoire. And still, the role of Herman in Tchaikovsky’s Queen of Spades was the artist’s highest accomplishment at the Bolshoi. Even compared with the best performers of the part (Nikolai Ozerov, Georgy Nelepp, Nikandr Khanayev and Vladimir Ivanovsky), his “emotional, ardent, intelligent and nervous Herman,” as Arkhipova remembered, was completely different. In 1964, he represented the Bolshoi when the theatre was on tour at La Scala in nothing else but The Queen of Spades making the Italian press dub him the “Soviet Franco Corelli.” When the singer post-synced the character of Herman in Roman Tikhomirov’s opera film in 1960, actor Oleg Strizhenov admitted that “the nerve of Herman’s state of mind conveyed through Anjaparidze’s voice was so plausible that I had nothing else to do but live together with it.” Herman in Anjaparidze’s interpretation was also a model for Vladimir Atlantov who “inherited” the part at the Bolshoi.
The singer’s high professionalism was a model for his colleagues as well. “There was nothing fortuitous about him,” Galina Vishnevskaya recalled. “He was … an artist of the highest level. When Zurab Anjaparidze took the stage, it always was a big event.”
In 1970, the artist left Moscow occasionally performing and recording as an invited soloist of the Bolshoi Theatre. He returned to Georgia, mastered new parts at the Tbilisi Opera, worked as a director and taught at the conservatory (he started the careers of many famous singers of the next generation such as Zurab Sotkilava, Makvala Kasrashvili, Badri Maisuradze and others). For several years, he served as the theatre’s director. Zurab Anjaparidze was a jury member of the International Tchaikovsky Competition. In 1996, one year before he passed away, he headed the jury of the International Andguladze Competition in Tbilisi.
“When you listen to the recording of the singers of the past, many idols tend to lose their halo,” noted Vladimir Redkin, a soloist of the Bolshoi. “The criteria of vocal mastership, manner and style are very different now. Only genuine talents have withstood the test of time. Zurab Anjaparidze’s voice and singing individuality are listened to and heard wonderfully these days. The ease of voice-leading, a soft timbre, scope of sound, his cantilena – all of that is still there.”
Before Plácido Domingo debuted as Herman in 1999, he carefully studied Anjaparidze’s recordings. It is another eloquent testimony to the fact that the singer’s art is still alive.