A fantastic opening of the Sofia Opera Wagner Festival!
14 Jun 2024Sofia Opera and Ballet

A fantastic opening of the Sofia Opera Wagner Festival!

“Lohengrin” enchants a full hall at the Sofia Opera

The romantic opera “Lohengrin” marked the beginning of the Wagner festival at the Sofia Opera and Ballet. Ninety years after the premiere of “Lohengrin” in 1934, the opera has been gifted a new exquisite vision and philosophy in Plamen Kartaloff’s new production.

The performance was met with huge enthusiasm by the audience. Bursts of spontaneous applause accompanied the show on several occasions: an uncommon sight during showings of Wagner’s operas. The frenetic applause and bravos marked the success of this incredible production performed by the Sofia Opera ensemble in the best way possible.

Wagnerians from Portugal, USA, Germany, Austria and Brazil excitedly commented on the impressive direction and scenography and on the lead vocals and the orchestra’s interpretation of the piece. These Wagnerians were especially thrilled by the fact the vocal ensemble was comprised entirely of Bulgarian singers.

Musical critics and renowned experts on Richard Wagner’s work had arrived for the festival opening: Klaus Billand, Gregor Tassie, Andrea Merli, Stephan Knies (“Opernwelt”), Roland Dippel (“Das Orchester” and “Oper und Tanz”), Dirk Schauss (“Online Merker”), Ursula Koschar (“Der Neue Merker”), John DiGaetani (“Wagneriana”), Helmut Pitsch (“Opera Online”).

Special guests included Harry Leutscher, the president of the International Wagnerian societies association; James Holman, the president of the Wagnerian society in Washington and acclaimed expert on Wagner’s works; Ortse Itzkovski, director of the National opera in Skopje; Vasso Ristov, director of the Culture and Information center of the Republic of North Macedonia in Sofia; Daniel Magdal, artistic director of the National Opera in Bucharest; Jorge Coli and Martinko Alves, professors at the “Juiz de Fora“ university in Brazil; Milen Mittev, general director of the Bulgarian National Radio and Mario Angelov, director of the BNR Music house. Among the audience you could also see journalists from BTA, BNT, the “24 Hours” newspaper and many other medias.

The audience was enchanted by the premiere of “Lohengrin” and expressed its admiration of what it had seen. Plamen Kartaloff’s philosophical ideas and vision while setting “Lohengrin” far exceed the expectations of how one should produce this opera. The three main elements on stage: the sacred tree which transforms throughout the scenes, the two amphitheatrical spaces where the singers perform and the story unfolds are all crafted in perfect harmony and enhance the smooth flow from scene to scene. The musical experts commented on the connection between the operas “Lohengrin” and “Parsifal” which could be seen during the overture and on the impressive impact of the Holy Grail. Such a director’s take had never been seen before in the entire history of this piece’s different interpretations. Some of the guests shared that this is the best production of “Lohengrin” they had ever seen. The scenography for this performance helmed by director Plamen Kartaloff was created by Hans Kudlich and the artists Nella and Christian Stoyanovi; Italian designer Mario Dice was in charge of costumes and Zach Blane handled the artistic lighting.

“Fantastic! Stunning! A show to remember!”, the excited audience uttered in the full hall, engulfed in the magic of Wagner’s music. After the show ended, people discussed at length the lead vocals, the conductor, the choir and the fabulous extravaganza presented on stage.  

Constantin Trinks: a world class maestro, was the conductor during this performance’s premiere. He works for the biggest opera theaters in the world. His fans had especially arrived from Germany just to applaud him.

The main roles tonight were performed by Kostadin Andreev (Lohengrin), Tsvetana Bandalovska (Elsa von Brabant), Ventseslav Anastassov (count Friedrich von Telramund), Gabriela Georgieva (Ortrud), Biser Georgiev (King Heinrich der Vogler) and Atanas Mladenov (the King’s messenger). The Sofia Opera orchestra played as well as the Sofia Opera choir led by conductor Violeta Dimitrova and the BNR male choir led by conductor Lyubomira Aleksandrova.

Here is what some of the guests at the premiere shared.

The Wagner festival continues with Wagner’s “Der Ring der Nibelungen” tetralogy on the 15th, 16th, 18th and 20th of June. The festival will close on the 23rd of June with another showing of “Lohengrin” with Evan-Alexis Christ as the conductor.

History of the piece
“Lohengrin” is a three-act romantic opera by Richard Wagner. It tells the story of a knight who arrives in a boat pulled by a swan to save a damsel in distress. The opera explores the themes of love, betrayal and the battle between good and evil.

Lohengrin first appeared as a figure in literature as a supporting character in the last chapter of the medieval epic poem “Parsifal” by Wolfram von Eschenbach. Lohengrin, knight of the Holy Grail and son of Parsifal, king of the Holy Grail, is sent on a quest to protect the duchess of Brabant but that would only happen if she never asks him for his name. Otherwise, he would be forced to leave her.

The opera “Lohengrin” was composed between 1845 and 1848 while Wagner worked as a Kapellmeister at the king’s court in Dresden. However, he had already begun creating this piece several years earlier while he worked and lived in Paris.

By the end of 1841, Wagner had already planned a five-act historical opera about the Hohenstaufen dynasty called “Die Sarazenin”. His attention was soon set on a book he received from his friend: the philologist Samuel Lers. The book in question was the anthology of Ludwig Bechstein’s legends “Der Sagenschatz und die Sagenkreise des Thüringerlandes”, published in 1835. Wagner learned of the legend of Lohengrin and the tale of Tannhäuser while reading this book.  

In Wagner’s biography written in 1865, he retrospectively tells the story of how he had created the libretto for “Lohengrin”. During the summer of 1845, Wagner and his wife Mina planned their yearly visit to the Marienbad mineral baths. Wagner’s intention was to forget about his work as a kapellmeister for a while and to live a peaceful life, focusing on his reads for the summer: Wolfram von Eschenbach’s poems and the anonymously written epic “Lohengrin” the interlude to which was written by Joseph von Gjøres. However, Wagner’s plan failed because his passion to create was too great. He wrote the following:

“Lohengrin” suddenly appeared before me in all its glory and in the center of this dramatical adaption of the source material… I valorously fought with the temptation to put my thoughts on the piece on paper but I was fooling myself. As soon as I entered the mineral bath during lunch, I was overcome by such a great desire to write “Lohengrin” that I left the bath after just a few minutes. I barely managed to put my clothes on and then ran back to my room like a maniac, all in order to pen the thoughts that had possessed me. This continued for several days until I had written down my plan for “Lohengrin” in the greatest of detail.”

By the 3rd of August 1845, Wagner had already finished the script in its entirety. In a letter to his brother the following day, he wrote:

“… in this mindset, yesterday I finished a very complete and detailed script for “Lohengrin”. I am astonished by the result and truly and willingly admit that I am filled with a feeling of proud contentment.”

Between May and June 1846, Wagner wrote a full draft for the piece which consisted of only two staves: one dedicated to the vocals and the other to the vocal harmonies. Simultaneously, he began working on a second draft, starting with act three. The full script for this act was completed before he revised the first and the second act. On the 9th of September 1846, Wagner began working on the choir and instrument parts which he finished on the 29th of August 1847 together with the piece’s prelude. Several other edits of the text and the score followed.

In a letter to Ferdinand Heine on the 6th of August 1847, Wagner announced that he had officially completed the opera “Loengrin”:

“As a result, I feel happy and quite content with my accomplishment.”

Some curious facts!
The premiere of “Lohengrin” was held in Weimar on the 28th of August 1850 at the Staatskapelle Weimar under the direction of Franz List, a close friend and supporter of Wagner. List chose the date in honor of Weimar’s most famous citizen: Johan Wolfgang von Goethe who was born on that same date in 1749.

Wagner himself couldn’t attend the opera’s very first showing. He had been exiled at the time due to him having taken part in the May rebellion of 1849 in Dresden. Despite conducting several parts of the piece during concerts in Zurich, London, Paris and Brussels, only in 1861 in Vienna did he manage to watch the entire opera from start to finish.

“Lohengrin” was set for the first time as a part of the Bayreuth opera festival in 1894. The production was directed by Cosima Wagner: the then late composer’s widowed wife who remained in charge of the festival for many years.

You can buy tickets for the next shows of the Sofia Opera Wagner Festival by following the link below:

T i c k e t s

  • Photo: ЛОЕНГРИН / LOHENGRIN by Richard Wagner
  • Photo: ЛОЕНГРИН / LOHENGRIN by Richard Wagner
  • Photo: ЛОЕНГРИН / LOHENGRIN by Richard Wagner
  • Photo: ЛОЕНГРИН / LOHENGRIN by Richard Wagner
  • Photo: ЛОЕНГРИН / LOHENGRIN by Richard Wagner
  • Photo: ЛОЕНГРИН / LOHENGRIN by Richard Wagner
  • Photo: ЛОЕНГРИН / LOHENGRIN by Richard Wagner