Plamen Kartaloff: Opera is a collective art


We managed to gain the trust of the audience in Japan and of the Japanart Agency, said the director of “Un ballo in maschera” and “Turandot”, prepared for the upcoming tour

Compelling operatic passions took place on the biggest stage in the Balkans, Hall 1 of the National Palace of Culture (NDK), with the premiere of the opera “Un ballo in maschera” by Verdi. Thousands in the audience applauded enthusiastically both shows that opened the season of the National Opera and Ballet. With this title and “Turandot” by Puccini, it will be a guest for the fourth time in Japan in 2008. It is not easy to prepare a new show in the time of repair, but thanks to the efforts of the entire ensemble and the partnership of the NDK the premiere pleased the audience of the capital with the new reading of the familiar title. The performance revealed the creative potential of the theatre, ignited by the original directorial reading of Plamen Kartaloff in tandem with the popular Croatian artist-designer Ivo Knezovich and the costume artist Elena Ivanova under the baton of Borislav Ivanov and Boris Spassov.

Significantly, international critics assess the work of director Plamen Kartaloff as innovative, brilliant, fantastic and searching. More than three decades, he sought for and created his idea of opera theatre at home and abroad. In recent years he is a sought-after name not only on the Balkan stages, but also in Europe.

 Modern opera practice often offers scandalous author readings of familiar titles. What is your creative position, how do you look for your dialogue with our time?
- In opera, it is the human voice that attracts the audience; it goes to the opera mostly for singers. However interesting a director’s concept may be, without good singers it will not be understood. As a young director I began with the idea of the total theatre, doing plays that required from the singers artistic acrobatics, I wanted the audiences to see the theatre in the opera. Over time, I get convinced that however great a concept may be, however the conductor fascinates the people on the stage, without good singers, nothing can happen. Of course, I love working with singers who can sing in the way one speaks, with singers-actors.

For me, a modern interpretation of directing or conducting is only a part of the opera performance in which singers are the main instrument. We must not forget that opera is a collective art. This outrageous slant of some productions will not grow in my opinion on Bulgarian soil. The taste of our audience is different. So when I go to a more radical reading I try to find a balance between the new and that which was born by the authors. The text is extremely important. The text should sound to full effect from the mouth of the singer, and the music is the one that gives wings to the artist. The director brings to life the work. The director should inspire everyone in common action to make them play. Although the singers often enchant the audience and mise en scènes that were difficult to create go unnoticed. But it’s teamwork. The singer is the instrument, the director – a translator of the author’s concept, giving the interpretation as a pilot, who will lift its audience into the heights of pleasure.

- In your productions the choir plays an important role, it is an engine for the action. How do you manage to engage singers in this game?
- For me every chorister is important because they personify the idea in the score. When I work, my pleasure is to reach into the souls of the singers by giving them tasks. You have to light them up, to make sure they know what they are singing, how to play “their part”. I have productions such as “L’elisir d’amore” by Donizetti in which musicians hang in the air four meters above the stage. This was not a problem in my production on the stage in Belgrade. Risk there always is, but when everything is taken care of – there is practically none. Although the facilities in Belgrade are not better than those in Sofia. This play was awarded the prize of the National Theatre in Belgrade for Best Director in 2003/2004.

- You are well acquainted with the opera theatres in the Balkans. What is needed for the Sofia Opera to be again a leading opera centre in the Balkans, focal point for co-productions for the development of cultural corridors here and towards Europe?
- The Sofia Opera Theatre is a global name in the operatic universe. Not only because our great singers have come out precisely from this theatre. In this theatre there is great energy and creativity, fuelled by talent that can do wonders. Right now the opera will go for the fourth time in Japan with “Un ballo in maschera” and “Turandot”. These are the titles wanted by “Japanart” – the agency that represents Metropolitan Mariinsky Theatre and the Sofia Opera. We managed to win the trust of the Japanese public and that of the agency.

- What is the difference in your reading of “Un ballo in maschera” from the well-known world models that rely more on the excellent singers?
- That the staging of “Un ballo in maschera” has been prepared for the Japanese audience is as important as for the Bulgarian. I know the taste of Japanese, they like more traditional productions. I am interested in the Bulgarian public. I suggest a new reading because I want viewers to consider the idea helped by a director’s approach based on historical facts and on what Verdi was forced to do so that his opera could see the light. I build my concept on the political assassination of King Gustav III of Sweden (1746-1792) and the love drama in the love triangle – Riccardo, Amelia, Renato, founded on analysis of the triad – the historical facts about the reign of King Gustav III, the first theatrical text for his murder (E. Scribe) and the opera libretto of Somma, connected with the music of Verdi.


The production directed by Plamen Kartaloff soared the popular title in the heights of the Theatre of big ideas. His reading is looking for dialogue with our time, drawing upon the hidden power of the historical facts related to Gustav III, King of Sweden. His political assassination is, in the concept of Kartaloff, the challenge to contemporary social significance.
Contrastive images on the stage, dynamically changing as in a film, suggest the fateful doom of the drama of love triangle Riccardo, Amelia, Renato. It plays out against the forthcoming political assassination. A criminal story occurring in no man’s land. A plot of any time. The staging team relies on symbolism in parabolic musical drama.

As early as in the overture Kartaloff plays out the story in the ballet scene. A model of an opera theatre in a pyramid in the very beginning and the stage of a theatre with columns in the form of Sphinx at the murder frame the drama. Under the pyramid, towering in space, the theatre of the dark forces in society is played out, with Ulrike the sibyl and the conspirators. Kartaloff utilizes efficiently the stage space with rich setting in several plans. Besides the main characters, the chorus joined with many acting assignments, it is the narrator of events. Impressive is the second scene in the retreat of Ulrike the fortune-teller, and the ball of the last act, with the chorus dancing and singing, dressed in blood red robes.

This was an ensemble show with two different facets in respect of vocal, stage and musical construction. The first solo cast – Emil Ivanov (Riccardo), Gabriela Georgieva (Amelia), Alexander Krunev (Renato), Elena Stoyanova (Oscar), Elena Chavdarova-Isa (Ulrike) and others, adopted the staging concept with the familiar vocal and artistic style of the singers. Emil Ivanov reinforced more the dramatic nature of his character, while Gabriela Georgieva is still experiencing difficulties in vocal evocation of the rich states of mind of Amelia. Elena Stoyanova played very well her Oscar. Alexander Krunev and Elena Chavdarova-Isa focused on the vocal image of their characters. Maestro Borislav Ivanov sought to control the difficult to achieve balance between stage and orchestra in the challenging acoustic conditions of NDK’s Hall 1 (ensuring the sound over microphones is always problematic, something that we felt particularly strongly in the first scene). The whole ensemble and technical services coped well with the dynamically changing scenes, without break, on a curtain of light.

This production demonstrated the ability of the Sofia Opera to make ensemble theatre. The other cast – Kamen Chanev (Riccardo) Radostina Nikolaeva (Amelia), Kiril Manolov (Renato), Diana Vassileva (Oscar), Rumyana Petrova (Ulrike) and others, created a different nature of the production under the baton of Boris Spassov, with a dominant vocal beauty and unaffected acting. The production of “Un ballo in maschera” aroused contemplation about our time, convinced us in the force and capabilities of our prime opera house.

An interview by Magdalena Manolova

Duma Daily, Sofia, 23.10. 2007


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