EUROPOST – Weekly for politics, business and culture
1 March, 2013 Director of Sofia Opera and Ballet, Prof. Plamen Kartalov: Sofia makes Wagner s dream come true The complete four-opera Ring Cycle is performed in the Balkans for the first time
Georgi P. Dimitrov Close-up: Academician Plamen Kartalov is Director of Sofia Opera and Ballet. He graduated from the National Academy of Music and then studied opera directing in Germany and film directing at National Academy of Theatre and Film Arts, Sofia. His high and inventive aptitude covers a wide range of styles and composers. As an undergraduate he founded the first chamber opera house here, now the Chamber Opera in Blagoevgrad. Staged innovative operatic productions in the USA, Egypt, Australia, Greece, Serbia, Croatia, Romania, Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Turkey, Germany, Switzerland, Brazil, Japan. – Mr. Kartalov, are the preparations for the fourth opera of the Ring Cycle well under way? – The four-opera Ring Cycle is a saga, which takes indomitable courage to stage as each of the four operas can be performed on its own. Wagner made his dream to have them staged in succession come true on 13 August 1886 in Bayreuth. It means focusing on this drama – 15 hours of music, which is a painstaking effort. My ambition was to stage the Ring with Bulgarian performers alone. Any opera house around the world that would perform the complete Ring Cycle with its own resources faces a grave risk. I held serious auditions and found the right singers. I’d elaborate that we have such a coach like Richard Trimborn, head coach of the Bavarian State Opera. He has worked together with such conductors as Karl Boehm, Wolfgang Sawallisch, Herbert von Karajan, who have become a hallmark of world operatic art. Initially, he doubted Bulgaria’s ability to select such a set of performers, but coming here, he found that we were on the right track and he has been contributing to the stagings for four years now. We staged an opera of the cycle every year: Das Rheingold (The Rhinegold) in 2010; Die Walkure (The Ride of the Valkyries) in 2011; Siegfried in 2012 and now Gotterdammerung (Twilight of the Gods). I did not know that La Scala did the same: they will premiere Gotterdammerung on 17 May; while on 24 May they start showing the complete four-opera cycle. We will be the first in the Balkans to perform the four operas on 22, 23, 26 and 29 June, i.e. the Ring is to be shown over four nights in a row, as Wagner intended. – Will the vision of Gotterdammerung be brought up to date? – The vision of this production will be a continuation of the concept of the preceding three operas. We build up the complete epic of four operas using the same elements. We add to or take away from the ring onstage depending on the curse. The ring carries with it a corrupting curse and has to be brought back into the river, where it belongs and where peace and quiet of the universe is so as to complete the entire drama process. We take great pride in our production. – How come you took to staging Wagner, most of your predecessors focused on bel canto, on Italian, French and Russian operas? – Wagner himself dreamt of the force of bel canto, that is of beautiful and expressive singing what bel canto means. With Wagner we have melodicism and continuity of music language, which require agility and singing long lines, i.e. singing with sustained full voice. Being a director, I find gratification in the task to see Bulgarian operatic practice brought closer at long last to the countries boasting great traditions in the field of opera and Sofia to be privileged and responsible for tackling this material. We are fit for the most challenging Wagnerian repertoire. All the three operas came to show that we relate to the best Wagnerian material or so Austrian, German and now Russian reviewers think. They even defined our productions as much better than those of opera houses with established Wagnerian traditions. I do not feel flattered and I am not presumptuous, but I am happy that Bulgarians succeeded in attracting attention with these particular productions for reviewers’ emotions are not biased in favour of a particular nation. Taking to Wagner’s operas, we combined our children’s naivety and innocence with adult proficiency. It was vital as until then Sofia Opera had been stupendous and notable for its Russian and Italian repertoire. Now, with the Wagnerian repertoire we explicated another aspect with the same singers, who sang in Japan Tosca, Cavalleria Rusticana, Gianni Schicchi, La Boheme, Don Carlo, Rigoletto, Othello, La Gioconda, Turandot. But then we have Boris Christoff, who sang Parsifal in La Scala. The best Wagnerian singer, Spas Venkov is a Bulgarian. We have Anna Tomowa-Sintow to mention just a few of the excellent Wagnerian performers. Let then have a new generation teaching a lesson of a theatre of international significance! This project gains further international prestige for Bulgarian music culture. – Should we expect Bulgarians living abroad to sing in Gotterdammerung? – Yes, you should. I invited all Bulgarians, both residing here and abroad to the audition. A major singer is Martin Tzonev, who plays Wotan and lives in Bonn. But where would all we be without our Bulgarian singers Kostadin Andreev, Martin Iliev, Mariana Tsvetkova, Blagovesta Mekki, Nikolay Pavlov, Nikolay Petrov, Plamen Papazikov, Krasimir Dinev: they are all performers that deserve to be acclaimed both by me and the audiences. There are 48 soloists taking part in the four-opera Wagner’s cycle, all of them Bulgarians in the prime of their careers; with German conductor Erich Vekhter we performed Siegfried at the third Minsk International Christmas Opera Forum and had a great success. Until recently we did a good job with conductor Pavel Balev, also living in Germany. Theatre designer is Nikolai Panayotov, who lives in Paris.