Recently the produced “Tristan und Isolde” by Academician Plamen Kartaloff for the first time on home stage, at the Sofia Opera, was an exceptional event in our cultural life. The production was highly estimated by the audience and the foreign critique and one can definitely say that it proved that our National Opera is on the way up and its spectacles are already commensurable with the level of the leading European stages.
But we can say that Wagner’s operas are a comparatively rare guest on our stages. The reasons are many. In the first place – the Bulgarian audience, which prefers mainly the Italian authors and before everything else Verdi, Rossini, Donizetti and Puccini. In the second place – our singers, prepared mainly for the Italian and Russian repertoire. So that it is not surprizing that till World War II in our country were realized only: “Der fliegende Holländer”, “Tannhäuser”, “Lohengrin” and “Das Rheingold”.
On 10 February 1930 was the first Bulgarian meeting with Wagner. The conductors Venedikt Bobchevski and Hermann Stange and the directors Ilia Arnaudov and Nikolay Vekov prepared diligently and precisely, in a “more German way” “The Dutchman” in Sofia. The first, moreover successful “Wagner” singers in our country were: Tsvetana Tabakova, Mihail Popov, Lyuben Minchev, Tsvetan Karolev.
On 30 January 1931, the chief conductor Stange produced “Tannhäuser”, together with the director Nikolay Vekov. The presentation of this opera also turned into a sensation for cultural Sofia. It proved the growth of the theatre. Actually, the 30-s and the 40-s can be defined as one of the most successful periods in the institute’s history. Hermann Stange worked hard with the singers, the chorus and the orchestra, in order to achieve the difficult and unwonted for them Wagner style. The young and very loud-voiced and full of temperament dramatic singer Tsvetana Tabakova, considered for one of the great phenomena of singer’s Bulgaria before the war, was an impressive, queenly Elisabeth. In the main role was the premier soloist Stefan Makedonski, Wolfram was the founder Petar Zolotovich, Walter – Konstantin Karenin /a Russian emigrant, a tenor of world class!/, Wolfram – Mihail Popov, Venus – Lyuba Krasteva. One really first-class cast!
After 3 years, the Opera turned again to this author. With “Lohengrin” on 5 October 1934 was opened season 1934/1935. Conductor was Moisey Zlatin, director – the German graduate Dragan Kardjiev, set designer Aleksandar Milenkov. Lohengrin was Konstantin Karenin, Elsa – Tsvetana Tabakova, this rising star, unfortunately deceased too early, Telramund – Sabcho Sabev, Ortrud – Konstantsa Kirova. The premiere passed with great success. The applauses at the final were tremendous, enthusiastic. “Lohengrin” became “the planks of the season” and was performed long time with full halls. After a certain time it was revived several times with new soloists. In 1939 “Tannhäuser” was produced for a second time.
In the “war season” 1943-1944 there were only three premieres. Of the Bulgarian one-act ballets after Filip Kutev’s and Petko Staynov’s music, after choreography by the famous Maria Dimova and a new production of “Lucia di Lammermoor” by Donizetti with Katya Apostolova and Lyuben Minchev. “The planks” of the season was the first realization in our country of “Das Rheingold” – conductor Asen Naydenov, director – the Director of the Frankfurt Opera Hans Meissner.
According to the memories of the chorus singer Zlata Bozhkova, the premiere made a “grandiose impression, with the direction and the musical performance, as well as with the technical achievements”. As Wotan marked one of his greatest successes the baritone Hristo Brambarov, a great singer and artist, at that time in his apogee, remarkable characteristic characters made Sabcho Sabev as Alberich and Georgi Hinchev as Mime. For two months the opera was performed eight times, after which it went off the repertoire. There came the coup d’etat from the fatal 9 September.
Here we must note that the both guest-performances of the Frankfurt Opera /two times in 1938 and in 1940/ and of the Hamburg Opera in 1943 with German and more specially Wagner repertoire, influence strongly our artists and were received very well by our music audience. Moreover, they were directed by two eminent conductors and interprets of the composer – Franz Konwitschny and Hans Swarowsky and by the directors-intendants Otto Fritz and Hans Meissner.
In November 1938 was presented Wagner’s entire tetralogy in 4 evenings /10, 11, 13 and 15 November/ under the direction of Franz Konwitschny – a great event in the Bulgarian musical life before the war. All this gave a stimulus for the reception of Wagner in our country.
After the coup d’etat from 1944 Wagner was for a certain time outside of the repertoire quests of our music theatres – because of ideological reasons. In 1959 Prof. Dragan Kardzhiev and the conductor Atanas Margaritov produced “Der fliegende Holländer”. It was not performed for a long time, because the audience was fallen out of the habit of this style. A greater success enjoyed “Lohengrin”, realized in Bulgarian language /like all Wagner titles till that time!/ by the director Mihail Hadzhimishev, the designer Ani Hadzhimisheva and the chief conductor Asen Naydenov. The cast was quite strong: Julia Wiener, Nadya Afeyan, Lyubomir Bodurov, Lyubomir Mihaylov. It was performed for a long time, at great interest by the audience, seasons in succession.
When Acad. Plamen Kartaloff took up and renewed our National Opera /which experienced till that time some critical periods/, the interest in Wagner was renewed. Already on another base. Produced were the operas from “The Ring” in the language of the original, for our pride! At a surprisingly high level, with wonderful young singers, who adopted the difficult music style of Wagner. The productions were received like real events and marked a top in the history of the institute. This was the first large scale Wagner series in South-East Europe, I would say at a world level – in each relation, as musical interpretation, as production concept and realization, work with the artists, as technique and artistic lighting, as modern and functional set design. Spectacles, worthy for each big world stage.
I think that Wagner was produced well also on several stages in the country. In the first place I would name the work of Dimitar Uzunov as director, after his specialization in Vienna, and of Romeo Raychev, and also of our great set designer Mariana Popova in Ruse on “Der fliegende Holländer” in 1969 with two remarkable singers-artists: Anastas Anastasov and Maria Ventseslavova-Anastasova. “The Dutchman” had also its successful Varna premiere in 1980 with Kiril Krastev under the direction of Kuzman Popov, and in 1983 also in Stara Zagora by a German production team and the conductor Dimitar Dimitrov. In Ruse in 1994 the German director Walter Eichner and the conductor from Switzerland Nikola Bliznakov produced at a comparatively good level in German “Tannhäuser” with German and Bulgarian soloists.