Meet the Artist caught up with Hibla Gerzmava ahead of her Carnegie Hall recital on 1 November
Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music?
I was born in a very beautiful place on the seashore of Pitsunda, a city in Abkhazia, and nature, the clear mountain air and the sounds of the sea have always inspired me to sing. We had a very musical family, there was always music in the house – classical, jazz, and polyphonic singing of my parents and relatives.
Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?
My biggest influence was the Pitsunda Cathedral, built in the tenth century. it was there I went as a child to listen to organ music, and where I saw many famous artists perform. For some time I thought of becoming an organist. I studied at a music school and then studied piano at the Sukhumi Academy. I always liked to sing, but before the age of 18 I never thought of a career in opera. My piano teacher took me to a vocal class and after training for a year, I was accepted into the Moscow Conservatory in 1989. At the conservatory I was also able to realize my dream, auditing organ lessons for three years.
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
One of the most vibrant memories is my participation in the Closing Ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. I was flying over the stadium in a hot air balloon, and singing from a great height, with thousands of audience members around me, and with the television broadcasting live to the whole planet. We rehearsed for a whole week, everything was written out to the last second. I sung with a thousand-strong children’s choir, and Maestro Valery Gergiev conducting. It was fantastical, unforgettable and daunting.
Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?
I’m very proud of many of my performances. One of them, ‘Medea’ by Cherubini, which was set specially for me in Moscow, a very psychologically difficult part (according to the story, she murders her children) and vocally challenging as well.
I’m also very proud of my successful debut at La Scala in 2017, in the role of Anna Bolena in the eponymous Donizetti opera. It was the first staging in 35 years – the last performer to sing this part at La Scala was Montserrat Caballe in 1982, and after all that time, they invited me!
Which particular works do you think you perform best?
I love all my heroines (“my girls”, as I call them) and all the works I’ve performed during my career. For me, it’s very important not just to sing but to grow into the role and live each of my characters. To be a dramatic actress on an opera stage is an indelible part of my job.
How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?
Of course, as most singers, I work with an agency, and I also consult with my music professor in Moscow. I approach this matter very seriously. We scrupulously select repertiore based on whether it’s a match for my voice, and whether it’s the right time or too early to perform one or other operatic role.
Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?
First off, it’s the Grand Hall of the Moscow Conservatory, my alma mater. It’s on that stage that I took part in the Tchaikovsky International Music Competition in 1994, and was the first singer in the history of the competition to receive a Grand Prix. This prestigious and renowned venue is a bit like Carnegie Hall in New York, which I also love very much and always look forward to returning to its historic stage.
What is your most memorable concert experience?
I always fondly recall our North America tour in 2017, as part of the Cherry Orchard Festival with the Moscow Virtuosi Chamber Orchestra and Maestro Spivakov. It was a very intense tour, seven performances in ten days, flights almost every day, a very complex program, but also an exhilarating journey of new cities, new venues and many new people.
As a musician, what is your definition of success?
Of course, pre-eminently, it’s love of the audience. I love and treasure the audience across the globe. When I’m onstage solo, and people came to hear me, I feel their anticipation and energy. The highest compliment and a sure sign of success is when at the end of the aria people pause – they don’t start clapping right away. The energy in that pause becomes palpable before the audience erupts into applause.
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
Most importantly, you have to love the music within yourself, and to keep learning diligently. It’s crucial to have a good educational foundation which will lead and support you throughout your career. It’s imperative to have your signature repertoire, not to push but to protect your voice, to keep it young and fresh.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Perfect happiness to me is to be content as a woman, as a mother, as a singer. To be in harmony. To have a sparkle in my eye, a straight back and a heart full of love.