During the final weeks of preparation for the Delft Chamber Music Festival, Nino Zvitadze, pianist and artistic director of the festival, found time to talk about a monodrama Maru.
Thomas Baiger told the story of a 19-year-old girl in Georgia circa 1920 for music and animation, a story by Salome Bendzi and in a stage show by Klaus Bertich. Maru Makashvili is a national hero in Georgia and kept diaries based on this new performance. In 1921 she went to the front as a volunteer and became a nurse. On her second day at the front, while she was breastfeeding a soldier, both were wounded by shrapnel and died.
Maru is part of our national history. The events of 100 years ago reminded me of what is happening now. Our country and in fact the entire region is in danger. As a woman, with my own experience of the war in my country (Georgia) in 2008, Maru is very personal. She is very famous in Georgia. Her personality, character, and memoir make her a symbol of freedom and independence, a bit like a girl like Anne Frank in Holland.
I was born into a family of writers. Her grandmother was a very respected writer and poet, as was her father, and she had interesting friends. She was surrounded by artists, poets, musicians, and a circle of very special people, many of whom, like Marrow, did not do well because of the political situation. During the Soviet era, some were deported to Siberia, others were imprisoned and never seen again. In the few years that Georgia became independent, Marrow wrote her memoirs. I think it was the happiest year for her, her friends and her family. And then things went wrong.
Brilliant and sporty
Maru was a bubbly girl, you can clearly see this from her diary. She had a very strong opinion about everything. Regarding music, she went to the opera and liked some singers, wrote reviews. She was very interested in agriculture and wanted to study agriculture in Europe. She was very active in some kind of gym class and was very athletic and strong, but at the same time very feminine and weak. I think all those very different aspects of it make it so special and attractive.
I only came into contact with her history later in my life. I was born in Soviet times, so this date was not available and public, but Georgia has always been a somewhat rebellious country. We have always maintained our Christian traditions like Christmas and Easter which were already forbidden. People secretly listened to radio from the West, listened to jazz and kept our secret communications to read things and find out what was going on.
But I didn’t hear about Maru until after independence. Then people started writing and talking about people and characters from the past who were hidden from it. Then the Museum of the Georgian Occupation (Museum of the Georgian Occupation) was opened, so that we could finally see our history and what happened in the 20th century; Before that, it was forbidden to talk about that period.
Actually I have not seen Maru’s Diary. It is in the literature museum not the Independence Museum and of course I live here in the Netherlands so I can’t go to Georgia much.
Of course I read about her memoirs and when I started programming this year’s festival on the topic of “People and Stories” I was thinking of a lot of different possibilities. We wanted to order a job commissioned by Thomas Beijer. Thomas is not only a great author but he also makes very nice animations and he is also a writer himself. I just found a new copy of Maru’s Diary on the Internet. When I read it again it was immediately clear. It’s very modern and relevant and there are a lot of young women like this that we don’t know about because they didn’t write the diary. We need to realize this type of young girl and not just girls, but young men who are full of dreams and ideals. I don’t want to delve into political situations too much, but many of these young people’s dreams are disrupted or not realized at all.
I’ve been working on this performance in my head for a while. Even before the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, I had an obsession about the entire region as it was unstable. I was already planning this last September, so before the start of the war in Ukraine. Everyone seemed surprised by what was happening now, but when you look at the history of the region and the role of Russia over the centuries, it is not at all surprising what is happening.
I lived through the previous war in 2008, which lasted only five days. We have lost a part of our country that we cannot go to yet. It is now completely safe but the atmosphere is very strange.
We needed a script and it was recommended to me by the Georgian writer Salome Bendzi because she really specializes in Maro and her contemporaries and is a very good writer. I wrote a whole new text based on the diary, but it’s a brand new text, so it doesn’t use quotes from the diary. Even poems in drama composed by Salome. I am very happy with the whole team, Thomas, Salome, Klaus and my input. Everyone was immediately on board.
There are all the talented people who worked on this project, so how did it go?
“We made it all through Zoom and Skype because Salome lives in Georgia, Thomas and Klaus travel a lot, but it went really well. We first had the script on which Thomas wrote his music. The piece is five-part.
Thomas wrote great music. It is very special. He’s of course a Dutch composer and he writes contemporary music, but there are a lot of Georgian influences in the piece. For example, there is a Georgian war dance he wrote in the form of a separator, the khurumi, the harmonies are reminiscent of the very popular centuries-old Georgian folk song. If you really listen to music, written for string quartet, that is, four voices, vocals and piano, it really reminds me that I am Georgian and I remember Georgian characteristics and Georgian harmony.
Then there is of course Klaus, who is very experienced when it comes to perceiving and presenting opera and theater. I think he liked the ‘setting’ of this piece because it was totally free.
Of course everything is framed by text, animation and music, and we brainstormed about all kinds of ideas and also about avoiding feelings. Of course there are some emotional moments, but due to the positive character of Maru himself, humor and positivity were also required.
Maru, aged 19, decided to volunteer for the front when the Soviets invaded Georgia in 1921. She became a nurse and was hit by shrapnel two days after arriving at the front and died. In her diaries and letters she seemed unaware of the danger of war. In her last letter to her father, she asked for some nuts and sweets and said that everything would be fine. The enemy was far away. There was something naive in her perception of everything.
I also read a lot about the war itself, also about strategies and where the troops are and things like that. I guess even well-trained generals didn’t know what to fight. The Soviet army that was advancing was very large and Georgia was a small country with few people, and they never had a chance. I admire Maru’s enthusiasm and belief in the good.
The piece is divided into 5 parts, the text is Georgian. Introduction, conclusion and parts sung between them.
We hear in the introduction about her love for her homeland, which she inherited from her father. In the second we see her character, how Marrow defended her rights as a young woman, her independence, her desire not to become what society expected of her; A wife with children. You can read that she wants to work and also that if she gets married, she wants to have her own job and not depend on her husband. In these first two parts, her character is revealed.
Then comes Khurumi, the war dance as a musical mix, and then dies in the fourth part, but I don’t want to reveal much about that. It’s more than a picture, an idea that’s gone. In the fifth part, the epilogue, she sings about the present situation, the present. Then it forms a kind of arc for the whole piece.
Language and sound
Georgian was the most natural choice for the play’s language. Marrow had absolutely nothing to do with English culture, so English was not an option. She was actually more interested in French culture but she was Georgian and Salome was Georgian. Dutch wasn’t a good choice either.
Throughout the piece we hear the “voice” of Maru. She tells everything herself, sung by mezzo-soprano Nana Dzidzigori. Thomas is also doing animation and some documentaries about Maru and her time will be shown.
to get to know
Since then, Maru has received worldwide recognition by the United Nations, a chamber in the Georgian Parliament, a national postage stamp and a place in Georgian history. This new work will increase knowledge about a very inspiring young woman who shared a special insight in her memoirs a hundred years ago. She really wanted to come to Europe and through this performance she got there anyway in life after her death.
The great-granddaughter of Marrow’s sister is coming to Holland for the shows and she’s so glad we made this piece about Marrow. Maru is also my personal thing.
Unfortunately, there are only two copies of it at the moment Maru On August 5, during the Delft Chamber Music Festival with mezzo-soprano Nana Dzidziguri, Nino Gvetadze himself on piano and Meccore String Quartet.
The first show, and thus the world premiere, will be at 7 pm and the second at 9 pm at Lijm & Cultuur, at Rotterdamseweg 272 in Delft.
Watch and read more
Here is the first introduction to Maru In a video clip of the Delft Chamber Music Festival
There is a Maro page on Facebook.
In 2018, Klaus Bertisch officially retired as a stage performer from the Dutch National Opera. François van den Anker has done a podcast about it.