THE NINE LIVES OF THE CAT IVANKA
Vera Nemirova about her meetings with one unusual cat
“Cats have nine lives”. In these words sounds the idea of rebirth or of a second chance in life. It seems incredibly and, however, it predisposes somehow the human being to expect with hope something new. For Ivanka this principle is valid indeed. Her place of birth is connected easily with this idea, because it is an opera theatre. There where every evening wake up for new life in the light of the spotlights myths and characters from different legends.
Ivanka was one of the cats, which inhabited my childhood. However, she was living not in the neighbour yard, like all other usual cats, but in the stories of my father. Ivanka was real. She was dwelling in the Opera house of the town of Ruse and if she has not died, then you can still see her in the theatre’s corridors on a walk with tail erect like a red tiger with amber-coloured eyes. Ruse is the town, in which my father worked for many years as stage director at the Opera. Connected in its history via the Danube River with the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and through Orient Express with the rest of the world.
Ruse is still one of the most interesting towns of Bulgaria, where once ago with the steamers on the Danube River arrived the first pianos and the German word “Butter” from Vienna. At the newly opened in 1949 Opera, which the population of the town with a lot of love had constructed after the end of World War II, were performed operas from all ages and styles. On the rehearsal schedule then stood the names of many international stars of the opera stage and as a little joke often at the end there was the name of the cat Ivanka, who was ordered for one or another solo rehearsal with répétiteur or ballet exercise. This was rising the mood of everyone, because Ivanka was something like a talisman of the Opera. Her territory was spreading from the theatre’s café to the dressing rooms of the artists, but Ivanka liked most of all the stage. At each spectacle she found her place among the singers.
I cannot say if I found Ivanka or she found me, but I was glad that she has defined herself for me, she chose me. Sometimes cats do this with certain people and step by step she started trusting me.
One sunny afternoon in May 2015, we were sitting with Massimiliano Matesic after a rehearsal, at the café of the Basel Theatre. Massimiliano was looking for a plot for an opera for children. All at once she came again to me – the cat Ivanka. She was looking at me with her amber-coloured eyes and was as if saying: “Tell my story”. We were sitting long time together and were thinking how from Ivanka’s adventures to make a stage story. Then I came to the idea – different operas, in which Ivanka liked to appear on the stage, to quote in our story ... Quickly were formed the characters: а cunning, courageous cat, who likes appearing on the stage during the spectacle, in order to “sing”, and doesn’t like to catch mice; an extravagant prima donna, who sees in Ivanka a rival; the Opera Director, who is still in love with the prima donna; Falana, the property-man, who loves his cat like an own child; the three tomcats – stage workers; two dogs and other animals like the little mice or the ballet master – rat …
We all were fascinated by this idea and the journey for its realization could start.
The composer Massimiliano Matesic about his music of “The Cat”
For me the action takes place 100 years ago in the last years of the golden age of the opera in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The music style is not far away from the last Viennese operas by Strauss, Zemlinsky, Korngold. In any case, it is seen through a magnifying glass of time or maybe heard from cat’s years. As the action takes place at two levels – on the stage and in the backyard, my music develops also at two levels in these two worlds. On the stage are being rehearsed classics of the opera repertoire: „La bohème”, “Lakmé”, “Eugene Onegin”. Behind, however, Ivanka is carrying in an animal way with herself her everyday stories and makes them sound. She fights against the prima donna and mews in a Wagnerian way with war-cries and sexy Cuban rhythms. Her musical credo moves between the Vienna waltz and the Slavic melancholy. She flirts with the Spanish rhythms by singing Carmen and makes the tomcats lose their heads, but she cannot hold back her animal erotic. This way the world behind the curtain turns into a place of sympathetic absurd of the opera world, a journey into the world of the music theatre, which invites the adolescent listener, as well as the music lover.