Raising admiring travelers
14 Apr 2022Business Global magazine

Raising admiring travelers

The Sofia Opera and Ballet strives to constantly offer the audience new and exciting experiences

The text is published in issue2/2022 (issue 18) of Business Global magazine

Hristina Staneva

What connects Sofia, the Belogradchik Rocks, the Magura Cave, Lake Pancharevo, Tsari Mali Grad, Vidin, Plovdiv, Varna, the Albena Complex? All of them host the open-air stages of the Sofia Opera and Ballet, attended by 136,700 spectators between 2010 and 2021. A large part of them came from other parts of the country. Opera tourists?

Yes, opera and tourism have a lot in common. Opera is an experience associated with emotions, with the discovery of new worlds. The same can be said about tourism, which is not just recreation and entertainment. It wins its customers by offering them something they need; something they will like. As with art, success in tourism is measured primarily by the quality and longevity of the experience. And the opera offers an exceptional experience.

It is not by chance that major opera houses around the world have the support of leading touristic businesses, as well as of the state.

The impact of the opera on the economic development of the regions is well known – the spectators not only buy tickets, they use hotels, restaurants, participate in excursions. In addition, they become ambassadors of the country they are visiting. The opera invests in organizing and producing the spectacles. The artistic teams make different expenses during the tours.

Opera has an extremely important role in building a better society and a great contribution to the development of culture and art, it cooperates on progress. In order to multiply its benefits, the support of the state and the sponsors is important.

Attracting foreign fans of the operatic art is a long-term strategy of the Director of the Sofia Opera, Academician Plamen Kartaloff. A lot of effort has been put into it and it is giving remarkable results.

The implementation of this strategy began with the staging of the different parts of the tetralogy "Der Ring des Nibelungen" by Richard Wagner. The first title, "Das Rheingold", appeared in 2010, followed by "Die Walküre" (2011), "Siegfried" (2012) and "Götterdämmerung" (2013). And in the summer of 2013, the work was performed in its full cycle for the first time on the Balkans. At that time, 65% of the spectators in the hall were from abroad, mostly members of the so-called Wagner Society. Something that hadn't happened before. Opera tourists from 15 countries were organized, including Australia, South Africa, USA, China, Japan, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy. In the following years, these same people came to Bulgaria again to watch the tetralogy. They followed the opera also in its tour in Füssen, Germany.

The Wagner societies typically include upper-class people with greater financial means. They usually stay in the best hotels and eat in the best restaurants. This marked the beginning of the opera's partnerships with 5-star hotels and luxury restaurants.

The specially prepared performances under the open sky gave additional attraction for opera tourism. Bulgaria has natural and historical resources that offer great opportunities for outdoor artistic events.

The performances not only attract new audiences, but also offer connoisseurs a different experience and perception of their favourite works.

You may have seen the opera "Boris Godunov" by Modest Mussorgsky many times, but the staging in front of the St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in 2014 charged the performers and the audience with special energy. The same temple played the role of impressive natural set in the production of "Nabucco" by Giuseppe Verdi in the summer of 2016.

The director Plamen Kartaloff discovers and shows the overflow of natural resources with music and drama in unsuspected places such as Giacomo Puccini's production of "Il Tabarro" on a barge on the Danube River or Gioachino Rossini's "La Donna del Lago" on Lake Pancharevo.

The festival, held at the Belogradchik Rocks, is an example of attracting many spectators to a city outside Sofia. (On the photo: "Aida" by Verdi, VI Summer Festival "Opera of the Peaks" of the Sofia Opera and Ballet.)

The festival "Opera of the Peaks" – Belogradchik Rocks is an example of attracting many spectators to a city outside Sofia and is a natural support for local business. Since the establishment of the festival in 2016 until now, 42 spectacles have been performed in this inspiring environment – opera, ballet and musical. The 24 performances of the unique production "Wagner – Magura" deserve special attention.

It combines a visit of the Magura Cave with the presentation of specially selected scenes from Wagner's operas. The performance begins with an introduction into the nature of the project, after which the group of about 100 visitors enters the cave and at certain points along the route it encounters moments from Wagner's musical dramas. At the end of the cave exit, the guests are pleasantly surprised by the greeting of the silver-white valkyries, and a local wine cellar offers a degustation.

Over the years, the festival's spectacles have been attended by over 25,000 spectators. Many of them travel specially from Sofia, from other parts of the country and from abroad.

The main challenge facing the Sofia Opera in Belogradchik is the lack of hotels to accommodate the artistic teams and the audience. That is why the orchestra and the chorus, as well as a large part of the spectators spend the night in nearby towns.

The summer festival "Muses of Water" – Lake Pancharevo was established in 2020. The natural set of the romantic lake mirror gives a new vision of the performances that take place on a stage built on a pontoon. Titles are chosen that clearly correspond to the location, such as "La Donne del Lago", "Das Rheingold ", "Swan Lake", "Mamma Mia!".

Of exceptional importance in the logistics and organization of a festival is the care of the audience – parking lots, buffets, transfers from parking to the stage, security and safety, welcoming, etc.

To be an art event also a successful business venture, this is not a mission impossible. What is needed is a strategic vision, uncompromising artistic quality, adequate information advertising and constant focusing on the final effect on the audience. All this cannot be achieved without full cooperation with state and regional institutions, as well as with sponsors.

The open stages of the Sofia Opera and Ballet

OPERA IN THE PARK – in the park of the Academy of Defence "G. S. Rakovski", 2009 – 2021.
Over 55,000 spectators, 172 performances (opera, ballet, performances for children)

OPERA OF THE PEAKS – Belogradchik Rocks, 2016 – 2021
Over 22,000 spectators, 39 performances in the main courtyard, 24 performances in the Magura Cave and 3 performances for children at the Gabite Summer Theatre

MUSEUS OF WATER – Lake Pancharevo, 2020 and 2021
Over 24,000 spectators, 61 performances (opera, ballet and musical)

FORTRESS OF TWO WORLDS – Tsari Mali Grad, 2020
Over 3200 spectators, 7 performances (opera, ballet and musical)

AT THE OPERA AT THE FOOT OF VITOSHA – Roman Square at the Boyana Cinema Center, 2020
Over 2,500 spectators, 7 opera performances

OPERA IN THE SQUARE –St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, 2014 and 2016
Over 16,000 spectators, 12 performances ("Boris Godunov" and "Nabucco")

FORTRESS OF THE CENTURIES – Baba Vida, Vidin, 2016
Over 3000 spectators, 8 performances (locations of stages: opera on a barge, performance for children in the Baba Vida Fortress and in the Bdintsi Square in front of Stambol Kapiya)

THE SUMMER OF "MAMMA MIA!", 2019 – Plovdiv Ancient Theatre, Varna Summer Theatre, Albena Resort.
Over 11,000 spectators, 7 performances

For the period 2009 – 2021 the festivals were visited by 136,700 spectators. In 2020 and 2021, due to Covid-19, the capacity of the stands was limited to 50%.

Hristina Staneva has been Deputy Director of the Sofia Opera and Ballet since 2013. Her responsibilities include developing and implementing the Sofia Opera's marketing strategy, sales management and control, building a corporate image, implementing advertising campaigns, developing digital marketing, public relations and personalized communication with the audience. As a manager, she actively participates in the preparation and implementation of significant projects of the Opera in the country and abroad.