04 JAN 2021 GRADAT Magazine
Acad. Plamen Kartaloff, Director of the Sofia Opera and Ballet: The Sofia Opera at the age of 130
Maestro Kartaloff, we congratulate you for the impressive development of the Sofia Opera and Ballet in the year of its jubilee!
- In its chronicle of 130 years, Bulgaria’s first opera theatre had glorious pages of peaks, which were pride for our national culture. The world stages had the privilege to be literally supplied with Bulgarian voices, who left their contribution for the world history of the opera.
Real gold are the Bulgarian talents, who the Bulgarian earth had generously cultivated. But first of all, a result for the successful development of traditions were the selfless and immense work, without forgetting also the conditions and the social interest, even if in the different epochs the state support was from hesitant to complete.
My humble participation in the tasks, the contemporary role and their meaning for the Sofia Opera today was connected in the years of my direction and responsibilities with coping with all sorts of obstacles in the democratic time, when the budgets for culture were in general reduced and the state made a step backwards from its full economic support. This is why the discovering of new directions, often alternatives, and the application of new vision for way out of whatever the problems may be showed memorable results. For me among the most important priorities of the management are the motivation of the artistic and technical staff, a turn in the repertoire policy, so that it could attract durably the interest in the Sofia Opera of the audience from all over the world, and conquering of new territories for the art of opera and a new audience for it.
I am proud with the guest-performances of the Sofia Opera in Germany with operas by German composer. Wagner’s tetralogy “Der Ring des Nibelungen” was performed at an exceptional high level with Bulgarian performers, who, together with the Bulgarian, Italian, Russian and French repertoire – they have been maintaining this repertoire ten years already – together with “Tristan und Isolde” and “Parsifal”. The six spectacles at the Bolshoi Theatre – Moscow, which reinstated after 37 years the traditional guest-performances in the Russian capital, the eight guest-performances in Japan, first guest-performance in Brazil and many other events are historical contribution for the history of Bulgarian culture. I personally was living in a parallel world of artistic work of the stage director and the art of management.
How do you work in the conditions of pandemic and what are the main priorities in this situation?
- To organize the activity in such a way that it doesn’t stop for a single moment. To take out the stress from К-19, the colleagues to come back to work at safest measures in the artistic process, not to allow, as far as possible, outflow of audience under the known for everybody circumstances of the pandemic’s dreadful threat.
Tell us more about the new season and repertoire?
- Most topic is our new pearl in the repertoire. And it is “Elektra” by Richard Strauss, which was produced on the stage of the Sofia Opera for the first time in Bulgaria and the remarkable is only and with exceptional Bulgarian singers. We are preparing also the expected with great interest traditional New Year concert. Together with the toasts from the world opera treasury, we also show for the first time another masterpiece. One of the most romantic Bulgarian films comes from the cinema screen on the stage of the Sofia Opera – the musical “My Father the Painter”. We are ready to open the curtains for the ballet “1001 Nights” too. But under the established situation of unforeseeable complications and limitations we shall plan in short terms. This, however, doesn’t deprive us of thinking about the organization of the next summer season on several stages, as it was during last summer.
The Opera went out in the square, in the park, the fortress, the lake and on many places outside of Bulgaria – what is upcoming?
- The spectacles of the Sofia Opera are a brand for attracting our traditional and new audience with discovering and mastering of new stages and new territories, especially of our special places in the open air, which develop a tradition for opera tourism. The beauties of the Belogradchik Rocks, the lake mirror of Pancharevo, the Roman Square at the Boyana Cinema Center, the late antique Tsari Mali Grad Fortress, the historical park of the Academy of Defence are already registered trademark and expected destinations by the thousands admirers of the art of opera. And for the Wagner Festival at the Sofia Opera arrive guests from all over the world. Upcoming is one more stage, which we shall open in the new 2021 summer season.
What should be the place of such national institute in the cultural life of Bulgaria?
- Emblem for national cultural institution with international importance and world recognition.
What is the strategy for development of the Sofia Opera?
- The care and the support for it with conviction and the pride that it is an example of most valuable intimacy and the alignment of our country with the European traditions of the countries with top opera achievements.
Which are the good world examples and the new practices, which are appropriate and applicable by us?
- Many are the examples and practices, but they are difficult to achieve. Necessary is inner need, cultural will and in first place social-political engagement with specially proved necessity in our cultural reality. The discrepancy is also in the standards and the budget frames for development of stable and unproblematic guaranteed creative activity. We are trying to go ahead with an algorithm of ours and own resources and efforts for highest aspirations.
The building of the National Opera and Ballet impresses with its classical forms, interior and atmosphere. Does it meet completely the modern requirements of the contemporary art of opera and ballet?
- The building of arch. Lazar Parashkevanov is a paragon of a real temple of the art of opera and ballet. The floor area of the stage space is a unique and rarely met architectural solution.
The hall is beautiful and everybody likes it very much. Although restricted in the place parameters among several central streets of Sofia to position maximally his phantasy in his project, the building of the Sofia Opera is unique. It’s a pity that when there is a place for a prestigious museum of the art of opera with tradition of 130 years, we didn’t have the chance to obtain the floors from 1, Vrabcha Str. There are accommodated two commissions – the one of the records, and since quite recently the Commission for Consumer Protection, moved recently from its own available base.
130 years National Opera
66 years since the first performance in the unique building of the Sofia Opera
The first entirely opera performance in Sofia took place on 2 January 1891 – Giuseppe Verdi’s opera “Il trovatore”. Thus was set the beginning of the People’s Opera, today Sofia Opera and Ballet. In 1891, Sofia was a town of muddy by-streets, citizens with full-bottomed breeches and fur caps and low cottages. In a Balkan environment like this, three enthusiasts, arriving from the Czech Republic, having graduated their professional singing education, decided to put the seed of opera culture in Bulgaria. Dragomir Kazakov, Ivan Slavkov and Angel Bukoreshtliev organized the first opera troupe in Bulgaria as a branch of the “Sofia Drama and Opera Troupe”. The performances – 12 whole operas and excerpts from 11 operas, with the participation of Bulgarians, Czechs and Italians accompanied by piano, the Guards Orchestra, the orchestra of the Sixth Infantry Regiment and people of the Italian Singing Society were accepted with unexpected success.
Because of poor financial circumstances and lack of state support, on 1 October 1892 the troupe was disbanded. In the beginning of the ХХ century, started a long struggle “for” and “against” Bulgarian opera and on 18 October 1908 the Bulgarian Opera Society performed its first test performance – excerpts from Gounod’s Faust and Verdi’s “Il trovatore”. On June 5 1909, the first production of an entire opera was presented – “I pagliacci” by Leoncavallo.
Since 1920, the National Opera and the Ivan Vazov National Theatre were cohabiting in one building for more than 25 years.
The building of the National Opera at 1, Vrabcha Str. was constructed as Agrarian House – a unique spiritual and cultural centre
in the period from 1947 to 1957 designed by arch. Lazar Parashkevanov in 1922. Arch. Lazar Parashkevanov was born in 1890 in the village of Hotnitsa, Veliko Tarnovo District. He graduated in Architecture and Civil Engineering, and immediately after his graduation he took up upon himself one of the most ambitious building designs in Sofia – the construction of the Sofia Opera.
In 1922, the Prime Minister Aleksandar Stamboliyski proposed to the young architect to construct at the place of the Agrarian House a unique complex – a spiritual or cultural centre, in which there had to be one immense building with central hall, in which should be held world forums, assemblies, celebrations of national holidays, a building with rich architecture, stone facade, lifts and more Bulgarian materials. In 1947, the new authorities set to Lazar Parashkevanov the task to construct a building for the National Opera and Ballet.
In view of the characteristics of the area and the surrounding buildings arose polemics regarding the central entrance, which, finally, was situated on Vrabcha Str. The architect coped with the denivelation of the steep terrain, placing the first balcony on the level of Vrabcha Str., with а climb of five steps. The allocation downstairs to the stalls and upstairs to the balconies is done from the lobby of the first balcony.
Arch. Parashkevanov paid special attention to every element
– from the lighting and the heating, through the mechanization to the sound and the acoustics in the hall.
The secret of the perfect sound is connected with the form of the hall – similar to a shell. By the construction were used only high-quality Bulgarian materials. The plates were made of highest-quality marble, the wooden panelling – of rare and precious tree species, of which violins, cellos and double-basses are made. All walls are double and have a cavity between both layers, and in all the walls there are the so called pots – special cavities, in which to resonate the sound. The ceiling, besides being a work of art, is on several levels, perfectly performed from acoustic point of view, so that the sound could enter between them, rotate, resonate and come back to the hall in a special way. Under the stage there is another cavity – the former restaurant “Opera”, in which everything is made of wood for better acoustics.
In 1954, the first admirers of the art of opera crossed the threshold of the new hall, which impresses with its ornaments, marble columns and wooden panellings.
Climatization of the hall and the couloirs, changed slopes, enlarged spaces between the seats, double floor, middle aisle, mobile orchestral box, new wall acoustic coatings and decorative ornaments with effect of gilding, restoration of the composition “Sky” by Dechko Uzunov – these are some of the realized ameliorations during the basic reconstruction and adaptation of the building in 2007-2008 designed by EKSA – arch. Konstantin Peev, for which it was distinguished at the Building of the Year Competition.