03 Dec 2013

The Building of Sofia Opera and Ballet

Rada Bakalova - Sedloeva
50  years have passed since that particular autumn day in 1953 when in Sofia  was officially opened the new National Opera, comfortably sheltered into the friendly arms of the Monumental House of BZNS [The Agrarian Union of Bulgaria], named "Alexander Stambolijsky"after the name of its popular leader. The dramatic and curiors history that was going  ahead with the events that predetermined the building saga of the National Opera from its very beginning to its end started in 1921 when BZNS bought for its own needs the Technical School in Sofia at "VRABCHA" Street Number ONE. However, after that particular purchase the work of the first Bulgarians who have already taken the Government wheel was upset by the crowdedness of the two storeyed  old and shabby little house. Then, Alexander Stambolijsky who at the time being  was the  Prime Minister of  Bulgaria decided to solve the problem with  the help of  Lazar Parashkevanov- his friend and follower since 1908.  During their historic meeting, Stambolijsky proposed to the young man to become an author, an architect and a general executive manager of the future  BZNS  House  which ought to be built at the place of the famous "Vrabcha" Street Number ONE. According to the Agrarian Leader the future House  should be built  with imposing entrances, lifts, impressive marble stairs, rich and splendid interior and exterior architecture, attractive stone  facade and as much as possible building materials of Bulgarian origin. Meanwhile, in 1920 after several interruptions of his education due to his military participations in the Balkan wars and World War I [1913-1918], Lazar Parashkevanov managed  finally to graduate  in Prague and to become an building engineer and an architect, as well. Immediately after he accepted with grate pleasure the challenge, the young man charged moreover with energy and  knowleges about the  modern trends of the European architecture began a thorough study of  the area  and all the other possibilties of the terrain. In the autumn of  1921 Parashkevanov  worked out already a lot of different interesting ideas, plans and designs and  specified all detalis in connection with  the future  palatial House. Then he presented the general plans to the attention of the Agrarian Leader who was highly impressed and fascinated  of  them and especially of the drawing of an extremely modern facade of the future House, applied by my grandfather to the plans. On that instant Stambolijsky gave his orders for the beginning of building activities early in the next spring...
Unfortunately, the next 1923 happened to become one of  the fatal years of the Bulgarian  history which should be remembered  with the political coup and the crual assassinatin of the popular Agrarian Leader...Than the project sank into the mist of the  social and political ups and downs as well as personal discomfort of the following times... But the magic of historic choice  was standing  the test of time and  continued to protect  my grandfather along his steepy road towards  the materialization of his dreams.
As a matter of  fact, after long professionsl ordeals until April 1947  Parashkevanov  had been chosen again  by BZNS to become a main architect and an executive manager of the  Union House  according to the plans approved by Stambolijsky more than 30 years ago...It was my grandfather's  star flash, because  at that very moment, in spite of all troubles  he managed to catch his last chance  to build such an enormous  in size  and symbolism  monumen.
The architecture and building saga that is still unfinished began in the cold spring of 1947  by a remarkable  show  of the ceremonial  laying of the foundation stone of the future  House and a lot of intensive building activities on the BZNS  area closed among the following streets:"Vrabcha", "Paris", "Rakovsky", "Dondukov". The lustrous attraction was followed by the real delecate but at the same time dramatic, filthy, conflicting, politically tasted and coloured dangerous battle not only on the building site. The strained nervous situation  forced  my grandfather to stay alert and to maintain his physics in good condition in order to pass successfully all the  traps and obstacles set in the gigantic labyrinth of  honour. On the other hand, his behaviour and attitude towards the social environment inspired hope and courage into people  even in cases when  the guillotine of the new building requirements and  the total change of the political situation in our country rejected the approved once by Stambolijsky general plans. Suddenly, in the eve of the  building start all the  forced changes  seemed  UNSOLVABLE...
Then, even the BZNS headstrong  members confessed in public that only Parashkevanov kept in his hands the key to their Union House  and that  he was the only man who knew the formula for the rearrangement of the gigantic puzzle stirred merciless by the ruthless time.The situation forced my grandfather  to put the system in motion and relying on his own engineering abilities  he began to calculate again the  necessary finances  for the building start. Fastly and efficiently he cleared  the avalanche of accounts and concluded that besides  some financial  limits, the main problems which were stopping  the real  building  were the unusual political situation in our country and the already build up terrain. In the mean time "Dondukov" was occupied by two enormous buildings: the House of the Army Publishing Fund  and the 6-storeyed living house at "Rakovsky" street corner as well as some smaller buildings along "Paris" and "Vrabcha" streets for some  needs of the new people's rulers. In fact all those unfavourable circumstances were nothing in comparison with the cardinal problem: What should be the central position of  the main axis of the  theatre and the entrance to it ? Suddenly, Parashkevanov  proposed a  revolutionary solution of that question which overturned at 180 degree his own plans and calculations. But his  idea - the quiet, little and calm "VRABCHA" street, identified from the very beginning  with the Agrarian Union to give its face of the future Agrarian House was instantly confirmed by those who were really interested in the  building of that House. At last the work started but under the exerted pressure on my grandfather by all kinds of  ill-disposed men and officials mainly from the  municipality circles."...In the summer of 1948 - wrote Parashkevanov - we finished the strengthening of the neighbouring  buildings and streets under which we were  discented  more than 12-13 meters. The foundation was ready, the basement walls - concrete. There were three concrete  floors at "Rakovsky" street and second circle of the theatre...In the late autumn of 1948  the opera management began quite unexpectedly to hang around the  building and espesially around the cosy theatre hall, which we were building for our needs. There were some rumours about  the  Opera managment intentions  to hire  the  theatre if we  fit it to some specific requirements. In february 7th, 1949 the  BZNS Standing  Committee confirmed the Cabinet decision for BUILDING  ORIENTATON  TOWARDS  THE  OPERA  REQUIREMENTS . What a  memorable day! In that day I received  a very special order to transform the build up parts and as soon as possible to draw new plans...In  February 11th, 1949 I issued a written order for DESTROYNG  THOUSE  ALREADY  BUILT  UP PARTS  which  will  stand on the transformation way. In  March 1949  was issued a Government  Decree  for the  BUILDING  ADAPTION  towards the Opera needs. Under the existing circumstances I was obliged to make a complete  TRANSFORMATION OF ALL  THE  PLANS  FOLLOWING THE  ARCHITECTURAL ONE ...Pressed by the situation and in order to follow the  definite line of the  planned  building work I drew up quickly separate details and hastily passed them for further fulfilment..."   Nobody is thinking now about those off-stage promlems, connected with such a collosal building  creaeted 50 years ago. But for the sake of  his own calmness the architect wanted to be sure of the precise calculation and proportion of all the building elements, that quaranteed a reliable link among art, monumentality, comfortability, mechanics, electricity, heating, ventilation and  especially the ACOUSTICS without which there would not become alive any opera hall in the world. As a matter of  fact my grandfather was a lucky man because the pretty blue bird that rarely visited architects who dared to build opera theatres was favourable to him. But he relaxed and felt better when Todor Mazarov - the popular Bulgarian singer during his guest- performance in 1954, pronounced from the stage of the new Sofia Opera  clearly and distinctly  the following:"... The new Opera is pride and honour of Bulgaria ! Its architectural perfection put it among the best opera theatres in Europe. I am delighted by its excellent acoustics !"     
My mother- architect Jordanka Parashkevanova - Bakalova, the truthful assistant of his father during the long, tiring and extremely difficult building peridod  told us another interesting story of that  remarkable time about  Sofia Opera acoustics :"...After the completion of Opera Building  there  arrived a special commission, responsible for the approval of the opera hall and to check up the acoustics possibilities. We were all there...When the acoustics specialists took their seats at different parts of the hall, the orchestra started  to play quietly and some of  the opera singers began to sing. The sounds were excellently heared everywhere. When my  father become sure of the Opera hall acoustics possibilities  he invited Herman Abendrot to come in Sofia for a guest- performance in the new opera. The world- famous opera conductor accepted the invitation and immediately after his arrival in  Sofia he visited  the new Opera. He was charmed from everything he saw and heard there. At the end of his visit, when he took "good-bye" with us he greeted my father and said that "after the Milan La Scalla, Sofia Opera hall has the best acoustics in Europe..."    
Besides the high opinion of the world - known popular singers and their colleagues all over the world, the Opera acoustics  was greatly appreciated by all Bulgarian profesional musicians and especially by Asen Naidenov who was at that time  the Opera conductor of a great staff of Opera singers. Ilka Popova, Nickola Nickolov,  Ilija Ijosifov,  Dimitar Uzunov,  Nickolay Gijaurov, Mihail Popov, Mihail Luzkanov, Julia Viner, Virginiya Popova, Katya Popova were only some of the stars, who dedicated their talant to the Bulgarian stage and transformed  it into a national pride. The celebraton of those 50 years would be also a reward to Lazar Parashkevanov's selfless and heroic labour for creation of an architectural symphony called "Opera Theatre" considered as the most noble and complicated  form of architectural building in general.
Almost simultaneously with the National Opera opened their hospitable doors for the public  the unforgetable for sitizens of Sofia and their guests - Restaurant "OPERA" and Cafe' "OPERA".  In  the autumn of 1957, 10 years after the dramatic beginning  of the  building period, the  Monumental  Complex of the Agrarian Union was ready and began its normal working activities as an excellently oiled and reliable mechanism. Even now  in our epic  time it is going on straight  along  its  own  historic way...