Newspaper Kultura - To make out the signs of the native black earth - Yana’s Nine brothers by Lyubomir Pipkov at the Sofia Opera
When Paul Dukas, Lyubomir Pipkov’s teacher, pronounced the famous phrase “You excavate out of the earth а style”, he hardly suggested the immeasurable depths of the mythological aspect, of the symbolic, put in in this opera. But he felt it with his intuition of an artist. Decades in succession the signs of the black earth have remained unread, the audience and the critique were not ready for the mythological time, in which takes place the plot of this most Bulgarian opera. It has always remained ununderstood, troubling was also its strong expressionism. Among the ridiculous explanations, which somehow had to justify its rare appearance on the stage, is that it was a “sharp every day and social drama, reflecting the hard situation during the Turkish yoke”.
The stage director Plamen Kartaloff has given back to the opera its main distinguishing feature – this of stage art. His characters act and sing in an inspired way in the complex role of characters-symbols at the limit of an almost unreal emotionality. He has built his concept on the mythologic time in the work of genius, on the bright symbolic, which carry the characters.
Among the main mythologems is the tree as a symbol of life. The tree is the centre of the stage space, one of the leitmotivs in the set design (set designer Sven Jonke) – around it whirls life, out of its century-old trunk goes out the Mother (good acting covering by Rumyana Petrova), a symbol of the family, always around the century-old trunk to her are being reported the events, she gathers them in herself, but she is powerless to influence them: this was “written”, this will happen. The tree is connected with the spread out in the whole floor of the stage enormous roots – the strong support, the connection with the earth, the black one. The tree in the development of the plot gradually and dramatically dies – together with it is ruined also the family; the mother, who in the beginning naturally crops out of the century-old trunk of the tree, is as if blown out at the end, swallowed up by its remains. Again around the tree – and the earth – is acted out the culmination of the opera – the cutting of Angel’s hands, followed by a splitting of the made by him wooden icon-stand and the bursting of the dramatic red background of the stage. An exceptionally strong stage directing and set design, which is based on the enciphered in the mythology.
The time is mythological, despite the allusion of a certain concreteness: year – ca. 1361, invasion of the Turks. But it is also like a rumour, which brings the epical singer. The alluded invasion fuses with the image of the evil, which acquires a concrete aspect in the course of the action – the plague, from which, horrified, the people are running and which is materialized as the Gipsy.
The costumes (costume designer Stanka Vauda) are also bearing a symbolic store: the only bright spot are the paints on Yana’s costume – she is the retribution, but also the creation, the hope. The chorus – the people, is a common mass and the costumes are decided in not standing out colours, but with alluded among the common mass characteristics: bear-trainers, colliers, beggars, wood-carvers. Yana’s brothers as collective character distinguish themselves with the rhythmics in the uniformity of the clothes and in their conduct. The dark colour of Georgi the Ugly symbolizes the evil, and the white colour by Angel – the light of the soul.
Plamen Kartaloff has developed a real epic drama. The action is set in unusually dynamic polyphony, from which one loses one’s breath. On the one hand are the characters – symbols. On the other hand – the multilayer people – the chorus, which is anonymous, hidden behind the mummer’s masks, but also varied with the variegation of separate half-anonymous characters – beggars, bear-trainers, colliers, madmen – but always a very active arbiter, commentator, informer, motive power of the events. Like an independent polyphonic line is interwoven the part of the seven brothers, who strengthen even more the dynamic of the action with the rhythmic of their presence.
On this dynamical background develops the epical and dramatical narrative of the main characters. Yana (Gabriela Georgieva) gathers and neutralizes her brother’s (family’s) passions, she is also the retribution, as well as the light. Epical female character, Yana speaks allegorically, the drama happens as if not to her, and the epical singer tells about her (“One mother had...”). She is also a personification of womanhood – when she embraces with tenderness and love Angel, the littlest brother, when she expects with excitement the rest of the brothers, consoles the Mother like a tender support of the family... The strongest moments of Gabriela Georgieva are, when she is a bright epical character – resolute, determined, when she doesn’t bend in front of the evil, which bears Georgi the Ugly, when she must administer retribution. Deeply touching is the monologue at the end of Scene 7: “How to come back...” In the innermost moments of communion with Angel’s talent it would be good the singer to calm down the vibrato, because it makes the character an everyday one – in contrast to the straight as if “from under the ground” tone.
Angel (Kostadin Andreev) is a tragical victim, the talent is delicate and helplessly doomed in a brutal milieu, in which the envy, the evil always dominate the spirit – one of the eternal topics in art. He is the noble figure in the opera, the dearly loved littlest son and brother and the most vulnerable one. Isn’t too womanly the actor’s air till the tragical moment of Angel’s maiming? Impressing is however the singer’s, as well as the actor’s death monologue, in which Angel for a short time rises his voice with his epic story (“One mother fed...”) over the crowd, in order to sink after that in the mass of the people.
Most complete – in acting and vocal aspect – is the character of Georgi the Ugly (Petar Buchkov). He is also a victim – of the evil, which burns him from inside. Petar Buchkov still with his first phrases inspires a presentiment of a dramatic final. Each of his appearances adds a nuance to his tragical character: the scenes with Yana, filled with longing for sisterly love and with awkward tenderness, spite and envy towards the little brother, rude conduct towards the entire rest of the world, the categorical bellicosity at the meeting with the Gipsy, the very strong finale, when he confesses in front of himself and in front of death the burning power of hatred.
Very convincing – in acting and vocal aspect – is Gergana Rusekova (The Gipsy). She fills in her part with a precise feeling of the timbre colouring – different by the meetings with Georgi and Yana. Rich timbre, but as if from another world, radiating a special objectivism, not engaged with the emotional timbre characteristics of the other characters.
Maybe most difficult is the multilayer, polyphonic part of the chorus. Like in the chorus of the ancient theatre, to it is entrusted the dynamic of the action – the accounts about the invasion of the Turks, about the plague, about the cutting off of Angel’s hands... It is anonymous, but also colourful with the variety of the separate representatives, who repeatedly increase the tension; here is also the leading theme of the seven brothers, who flow into the complex polyphony. Exceptionally difficult was the work of the chorus master Violeta Dimitrova, probably with the time the complex polyphony will settle down and the ideal plasticity will be obtained. I am not sure that the open singing with wide vibrato, used for example in Scene 6, in front of the cathedral church in Sredets, is the best colour. Probably the idea was to be enacted a genre picture, I think that this rather makes lighter the mythological aspect in direction to the traditional mass art.
One of the indisputable achievements of the spectacle is the orchestra. Wonderfully balanced as timbre, in excellent cohesion with the action on the stage. Brilliant work of the conductor (Zhorzh Dimitrov) – to combine and give a meaning, to lead the entire powerful dynamic of the exceptionally complex polyphonically structured musical dramaturgy.
“Yana’s Nine Brothers” is among the phenomena of the contemporary European culture. Its revival at the opening of the prestigious forum Opera Europa is a good sign for the future of the Bulgarian culture, God willing, also for a renaissance of the Bulgarian operatic art on the national stages. A promising fact – the whole cast, among which are prevailing young singers, worked with intellect and passion.