23 Jan 2014


The 90th Anniversary of the unforgettable lyric soprano

On 21 January 2014 completed 90 years of the birth of the great Bulgarian singer Katia Popova. Katia’s artistic career was short, but brilliant. She re-created over 20 roles on stage, participated in over 600 spectacles, had guest-performances in more than 20 countries and received a great number of deserved awards.

Katia Popova is an unique event in opera world of the XX century. She was born on 21 January 1924 in Pleven. Since a child, at the age of 7, she started with piano lessons by Mara Gaytandzhieva, the piano pedagogue in Pleven of that time. Katia’s talent developed quickly and she became familiar to the citizens of Pleven most of all with her participation in a number of music programs, productions, operettas and so on. She was also soloist of Pleven Symphony Orchestra. She graduated secondary school in 1944 and, after a brilliant presentation, she enrolled at the Bulgarian State Conservatory, in the class of the vocal pedagogue Mara Marinova-Cibulka. In 1947 she graduated the Conservatory with honours and golden badge. Exactly at that time Sofia National Opera was conducting a competition for soloist soprano. At the competition took part 70 talented young ladies and all of them competed for one place. The talent of the girl from Pleven stood out so strong among the others candidates, so that she was chosen and became member of Sofia National Opera. Her first appearance happened on 3 November 1947 in the role of Esmeralda, in the opera “The Bartered Bride” by Bedřich Smetana. Popova developed quickly and worked a solid repertoire. At the age of 24, Katia won the laureate award – golden medal at the International Singing Competition in Bucharest.

A period of new quality in the singer’s career started with her specialisation at the Opera Studio of Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow. There she had the chance to work with great conductors and composers, who developed fully her talent. After that began her triumphal way to the world opera stages.

Eminent foreign and Bulgarian musicologists pointed out Katia Popova as one of the best belcanto performers. Familiar and recognized in Europe, she evoked the interest of the opera connoisseurs in America and Asia. Each one of her characters was defined as an apogee in her singing practice, an unrivalled event, a perfect model of vocal art: Natasha Rostova, Manon, Marguerite, Violetta, Mimi, Iolanta, Liù, Cio-Cio San.

In 1957 the General Director of Paris Opera Theatres heard her performance and exclaimed that she was a rare talent. After that he engaged her for the role of Manon in “Manon Lescaut”. Still the same year she was playing in Massenet’s opera at Opéra comique. Her performance was brilliant. About her transformation in that role newspaper “Figaro” wrote: “This was Manon, the real Manon! Re-created by a wonderful Bulgarian singer, who gave it a second life!” The grandson of the composer Massenet shared before the artists of Opéra comique, that he had never heard such a Manon before. Since then, until her end, Katia Popova pleased the citizens of Paris with her performances.

Her cousin Draga Machuganska, who has been prompter at Sofia Opera and Ballet since 29 years remembers, that before dying in aircraft accident, Katia Popova gave a concert with Pleven Symphony Orchestra. The concert was held in hall “G. Dimitrov”. Katia wore a light blue dress. After the concert she was surrounded by many friends and relatives, admirers of her talent. Her class teacher, who was at a very old age, was also present. The happiness of the singer was full. She looked like a princess from a fairy tale. All young girls dreamt to be like her – opera divas.

Only 3 weeks later, Katia Popova died in aircraft accident – on 24 November 1966, in Bratislava, with flight LZ 101 of the Bulgarian National Airline “ТАBСО“, flying on the line Sofia-Berlin.

Draga Machuganska remembers her as a very generous and good person. Such she will remain also in the memories of her colleagues. The famous conductor professor Boris Hinchev shared before Draga: “Katia has given me a watch as a present when I was a poor post-graduate student in Italy. Katia’s debut was with the tenor Georgi Hinchev, my father. She loved me and believed that I was going to become a good conductor”. And one of the orchestra members during the rehearsals was stolen the raincoat. The soprano learned about that and bought a new raincoat for him. At the first sight these are small details, which, however, tell much about the person Katia Popova...

“The singer’s family was connected with music, tells Draga Machuganska. Her parents – Asen Popov and Maria Popova were teachers, who adored opera singing. Her first cousin, Dora Glozhenska, was opera singer, pedagogue of many years at the Music School “P. Pipkov”, in Pleven. Ivet Glozhenska, her second cousin in Pleven, was conductor.  Her sister – Diana Popova was operetta singer, soloist of Music theatre “Stefan Makedonski”. The daughter of Nikola, Katia Popova’s brother, is Asya and has been many years artist at the Cinema Centre. Her daughter bears the name Katia and has talent for singing. Since long her relatives are living in Germany.

The way of Draga Machuganska, cousin of Katia Popova, to Sofia Opera and Ballet is also connected with opera singing. She plays three instruments and knows several languages.  In 1982 she became soloist of the Mandolin orchestra of the Central Cooperative Union. She has been on tours in the ex-socialist countries. Now she prompts at prima vista all operas of the repertoire of our first opera theatre. Draga is known in the music circles in our country and abroad with her astrological knowledge. She is author of the well-turned acrostic, which she wrote in memory of her relative:                                                  

How terribly it sounded,
And she was young, in her apogee
Tatyana, Mimi, Violetta, Cio-Cio-San
Japan, Russia, they called to a distant way.
And she was young, in her apogee,                                
Alone on the infinite way,
The ether was always calling you.
The skies received you in a charred embrace.
The trees became dumb hushed in a flash.
The wind was breaking off the fog,
And it was an ominous hour, darkness.
You have walked your unearthly way.
You have recreated majestic characters.
You were affected by evil omen.
O, how the airplane stuck in in a flash.
Sacra Peak it gassed irreversibly.
Astral sign in an ominous hour, evil criminal.
And the screams heard, I wonder who...?

P.S. 18.04.2013, 14 h, Sofia – the Opera, rehearsal of “Die Walküre” by Wagner on small stage.
The acrostic is taken from the prepared for publishing book “Opera and mystics”. The English translation of the verses was made literally, i.e. in English they don’t represent an acrostic.  

After Katia’s decease, reveals Draga Machuganska, grand-father Asen Popov gave the grand piano “Blütner” of his daughter as a present to hall “Katia Popova” in Pleven. And when Ivanka Deliyska, conductor of the children’s choir “Zvanika” in Pleven, was studying opera singing at the Conservatory, she received a scholarship at the name of Katia Popova. Asen Popov gave her as a present one of the concert dresses of his daughter, which later Deliyska gave as a present to the Regional Museum of History in Pleven.

A very good friend of the great Bulgarian soprano was Svoboda Gyurova from Pleven. “Once, remembers Gyurova, Katia arrived in Pleven to give a concert before 500 soldiers. One of the organizers told her not to worry, because they didn’t understand her singing. Popova replied, that if only one of the soldiers understood a little bit from opera singing, she would sing for him.”

Svoboda points out, that she doesn’t know music notes, but she recognises Popova’s voice among many others. She is disappointed that today people talk and write very little about her friend, even on the day of her 90th Anniversary.

A priceless album with 213 photos of the opera prima Katia Popova donated to Sofia Opera and Ballet less than a year ago the photographer Tsvetan Tomchev. Tomchev, who is the founder of “BG Press Photo“, had found by chance the album with photos of the soprano, exposed among the junks on the Sofia flea-market and proposed do give it as a present to the institution which would ask for it. First at the offer responded Sofia Opera and Ballet. Later on, interest for the album showed also Direction “Archives”, the National Theatre “Ivan Vazov”, as well as the Regional Museum of History in her home town Pleven.

The collection of unique photos, which haven’t been shown yet and which will become part of the future Museum of the Art of Opera and Ballet in Bulgaria, contains moments from participations of the singer in France, the ex Soviet Union, Romania. At one of them the performer has her picture taken on a camel at Sunny Beach in 1964. Another photo shows her next to an old motorcycle “Izh”, model 1960.  Stamped are also private moments of the singer – at harvest time with sheaves of wheat, before chalet “Malyovitsa”, in Bankya, with doctors in St. Petersburg (Leningrad).Film in memory of Katia Popova

Film in memory of Katia Popova