After accepting the invitation of the Sofia Opera to enter into a role, recreated by Kosta Tsonev on the small screen, Kalin Vrachanski follows in Yordan Mitev’s steps in a new production of the Varna Theatre
“My professor at the National Academy for Theatre and Film Arts, Prof. Zdravko Mitkov, was telling us that we have to learn from the great ones. Only this way one could find a way to reach them. It is not necessary to reinvent the wheel, just follow the way in your striving to be there.” This is what shared the actor Kalin Vrachanski days before the premiere of “My Father the Painter” at the Sofia Opera. Despite the difficult for all arts situation, caused by the coronavirus, the company is rehearsing and on 8 May it promises a premiere of the stage adaptation of the legendary film musical from 1974, directed by Stefan Iv. Dimitrov to Vasil Tsonev’s scenario and music by Peter Stupel and Konstantin Dragnev.
At the time, the viewers were empathizing with the characters of Kosta Tsonev, Nevena Kokanova, Nevena Mandadzhieva, Svetoslav Peev, Kliment Denchev, Georgi Partsalev, Ivan Tsvetarski, Lachezar Stoyanov, Dzhoko Rosich, Itskah Fintsi. They were falling in love with the teacher in history Mr. Andreev, dismissed short before the New Year, who accepted, together with his children, to paint the enormous house of a local factory owner, in order to provide food for his family for the holiday. They were singing the refrain “Tempo, tempo, paint it”, “We are tadpoles”, “Hope ends, but hope is coming”, etc. They got to like the plot, in which the best is yet triumphing over impudence and haughtiness.
The same plot, but recreated live, will be not at all foreign to the audience of today. The staging is by Acad. Plamen Kartaloff, conductor is Svetoslav Lazarov, and in the personages of the characters we expect talented children, a part of the first artists of the Sofia Opera, the doyen of the Satirical Theatre Svetoslav Peev (he is the connection between the screen and the opera stage) and the actor Kalin Vrachanski as Mr. Andreev. One of the most interesting personality in our theatre and cinema, he is sparing his media appearances, but he agreed to talk with Portal Culture.
You are from the so called singing actors. Several years ago, I watched you as Mozart in the play “Mozart and Salieri” by Bina Haralampieva with the Ruse Opera, you are winner of the music TV format “Like Two Drops of Water” too with your impersonations in Vasil Mihaylov, Ray Charles and Goran Bregović, and you already have a much more serious engagement at the Sofia Opera – was this a natural gaining of experience towards such a goal, or was the invitation rather unexpected for you?
The invitation for “My Father the Painter” was unexpected for me, but I won’t hide that I have always had interest in musicals. I have seen some of them abroad and I have always been impressed by the way drama actors combine their profession with the one of a musician and dancer. Everything is one whole, and it is performed in a brilliant way! You watch them and you tell yourself: “My God, it is out of reach!” That is to say, I saw how on the world stages people make virtuoso productions, combining drama art with singing and dance, and I won’t hide that I was feeling the desire some day to try myself, to be there. Well, now it’s happening here, but nobody knows …
How did it happen actually?
Some time ago, when at the Sofia Opera was upcoming the production of the musical “Mamma mia”, I was called for a casting for one of the roles. I began preparing the songs, but it turned out that the role, for which I was called, wasn’t in my vocal range. It was quite higher, and I had to take into account my potential. There are heights, which, if they don’t come out, it becomes unpleasant to listen. I know that if I am doing something, I must do it in the best possible way, but I felt that it wouldn’t come out, that it would be with compromises.
However, when there came the idea for the staging of “My Father the Painter”, from the Opera they again remembered me and invited me. I told them “With pleasure”, but I wanted to check whether I could take up this task vocally. We made several rehearsals with Svetoslav Lazarov, who will be also conductor of the spectacle, and it turned out that I have the range. Only then I said: “Well, let’s start.” In the actor’s work I have some experience, but in singing – not so much, this is why I allowed myself the caprice to try, before getting convinced that I could take up the role.
Are you working with vocal pedagogue?
For the moment not, because we did a lot of preparatory work with maestro Lazarov. We began the real rehearsals with him, and now, rehearsing already on the stage with Maestro Kartaloff, I don’t have the need any more.
I will allow myself a little joke – Maestro Kartaloff worked first with your TV “brother” Vladimir Mihaylov, does the “family connection” have a hand here?
It is true that Vladi took part in “Les Misérables”, in “The Fantom of the Opera”, in “Mamma mia”, but also in the frames of the joke – I am walking after him, and yet he is my eldest brother (he laughs).
I suppose that in “My Father the Painter” you had certain fears to stand next to professional opera singers like Dimitar Stanchev, Nikolay Petrov, Mariana Zvetkova, Silvana Pravcheva. Biser Georgiev, Krasimir Dinev … What tips did they and Acad. Kartaloff give you?
The tips are more specific, they refer strictly to the work, because regardless of its format – musical, the performance is different from the one at the drama theatre. There are specifics to which you should pay attention, for example, when you finish your song to leave a short breath, so that the audience to be able to react, and not to continue right away with your task. These are fine points, for which I thank my colleagues. Maestro Kartaloff himself pays a lot of attention to my acting in the musical. I don’t have this experience and I trust him implicitly, a wonderful person, so calm in his work, well in hand even in his emotion. I see how exhausting is the work with an enormous team. To arrange on the stage so many participants is a hard work. I am really impressed.
The special by him is the film look at the staging of opera spectacles, and recently – of musicals – is it so this time too?
Yes, he is working so. In a conversation, Acad. Kartaloff shared with me that he graduated in cinema directing, i.e. nothing is by chance. And “My Father the Painter” predisposes to this. Let’s not forget that the staging is an adaptation of a Bulgarian TV film, this is why it inevitably sucks in from the screen character of the musical.
How do you work with the professional opera singers and with the crowd of children around you? Is there a risk in a similar symbiose?
It depends on what – if it is a risk, things to come out in a more complicated way, then this for is the role of the stage director, who has to create the symbiose between all of us. And it is really there. As far as for my work with the children, I think that it comes out wonderfully. They are so amusing! I won’t hide that sometimes it is harder to work with them, because they get distracted more often, but this is also the pleasure of the work with children. They can give you a lot. I am struck with respect by them. Children are so ingenious in their primary reactions, so that play as you will, you can’t reach them, and to cast a shade on them – even less.
You enter into the character of Mr. Andreev, who becomes painter on necessity. This is one of Kosta Tsonev’s most loved film roles – does this make your responsibility greater?
The film is quite old, it was broadcasted on BNТ, but I don’t have a memory. This is why I watched it again. I had to realize clearly where to I’m going, still before receiving the scenario itself. Now I wouldn’t say that I am trying to get close to the character, created by Kosta Tsonev. This is as if, playing Shakespeare, to try to be like Laurence Olivier. It is not necessary to copy people, who did something before you. Otherwise, why they have invited you?! They have invited you because of your interpretation of the role. And the interpretation is a result of the joint work with the stage director. This is why at the moment we are not striving something to look like in the acting. We borrow some emblematic elements for the film, but to copy them – no, this is not the way.
Do you know, years ago I was talking with Kosta Tsonev and I asked him, if he makes some more special things in the preparation of his roles, and he answered me so: “By me things happened by intuition. Many times, the stage director was asking me: “Where you know these things from?!” And I was telling him: “From here.” This told me the actor and he pointed his heart. How is it by you?
The same way, I think. If things don’t pass through you – in the case, as Kosta Tsonev says, through the heart – they wouldn’t be so much applauded. When you are maximally sincere in the presentation, then things are thine, they are part of you. And about the intuition, I fully agree with Kosta Tsonev, because it is often true. Not every time, but sometimes it is quite exact. When you take a new, unknown for you text, definitely the intuition is leading you.
I am impressed by your impersonations in “Our Lady of Paris” at the Sofia Theatre, in “The Raven” at Theatre 199 and others – what from this experience is helping you at the Opera?
Similar roles are in support namely of the just said – things to pass through you. The experience, which I have more or less accumulated at the theatre, is now helping me to be calmer in my occupation with something quite different from everything, which I have done so far. I wish to make the role in “My Father the Painter”, not only because it is new and interesting to me, but also because I like it. I like the work with the whole team of the spectacle.
As I mentioned “Our Lady of Paris”, it comes to my mind that there is a world-known musical with this title – is there a similar role in your dreams? No one ever knows where to will lead him Maestro Kartaloff’s phantasy…
(He laughs.) If it would lead him that way, it would be great. Because on the world stage there are so many good things that it would be good our audience to see them too. However, not many are the people in our country, who can allow themselves to travel around the world to watch such spectacles. If there is a Bulgarian production of “Our Lady of Paris” at the National Opera, it would be great. Of course, in order the spectators to enjoy the musical, it has to be done the way it was conceived in original. If compromises are made, dictated by the local situation, it won’t be the same. Yet, we know that similar world-known musicals come with their conditions and requirements for exact reproduction.
Sincerely I wish you Quiasimodo to come back by you again.
(He smiles.) Who knows …
Let’s peep also into the TV series “Brothers”, in which you perform one of the two key roles, but since quite a long time we don’t see you on the screen – what is happening with your character Boris, will his secret be revealed, or we shall remain in expectation of the third season?
You know that when we have to do with a TV production, which is being broadcasted for a long time over the airwaves, we, the actors, don’t have the right to say what is going to happen. I can make no comment, and even less tell details. I would only say that the series follows the conceived line, i.e. we support the mystery from this season.
I didn’t manage to mislead you, but I will come back again to my one-time conversation with Kosta Tsonev, may his soul rest in peace. At that time appeared the new series, a lot of noise was made around “Glass Home”, in which you took part too. And to my question about the TV series he said: “Oh, things are a little bit wiredrawn, they are a little bit arranged …”
Some of the new series were really such.
He, however, added: “Yet, lucky are these girls and boys, for three-four weeks they have become stars.” Do you agree that this was a serious trampoline for you too?
Of course! The time gave us this opportunity. Then such a product was missing in the Bulgarian TV space, and the Internet was still not so widely spread and the audience was sitting before the TV sets. If now the net is the place, where you can see something, which is interesting to you, then it was the TV screen. This was one of the advantages of the series “Glass Home”, and the other one – that it was very well produced. Unfortunately, the next TV series began to bring down the quality and the audience withdrew. Because when you start underestimating it, it begins to look for something else.
The world examples in the last years are indicative – a real boom of the series of quality …
Exactly. The reason for the enormous interest in similar productions we see on the world market – quality. It seems to me that if somehow everybody, who deals with this art in our country, don’t start striving to be like them, things will be rather satisfactory. My professor at the National Academy for Theatre and Film Arts, Prof. Zdravko Mitkov, was telling us that we have to learn from the great ones. Only this way one could find a way to reach them. It is not necessary to reinvent the wheel, just follow the way in your striving to be there. And yes, in the world are input enormous resources in this industry, but it is not necessary ten satisfactory things to be made here, provided that two can be created and they really to be very good.
Unfortunately, the big producers want to input little and win a lot. In our country the attempts are to cover the audience from the low to the high age. According to me this is not necessary, because this way is excluded the possibility to shoot genre productions, which, if they are well done, could go beyond our borders. If you serve only the interests of one nation, as it is for example in our country, or you come close only to the neighbours, then the market is limited.
In this sense, do you have a comment about the dispute “cinema or series”, provoked by the changes in the Film Industry Act?
Unfortunately, a lot of things were written and told, people began to confuse themselves what is true, and what isn't. I myself had to ask the advice of friends, who are deeper into the matters, to explain me. As far as I know, now things are in balance and it is clear that when there are more means to make cinema, it is better; that money for cinema remains only for Bulgarian cinema and that there is other money, which is for production of series.
You quoted your professor, but I would like to quote the author of the libretto of “My Father the Painter”, Kosta Tsonev’s brother Vasil Tsonev, who during his lifetime liked to joke: “I won from the noble envy of my colleagues!” As if this feeling is uncurable in the artistic guilds …
Not only in the artistic guilds, envy is everywhere. It is as if set in human nature. And in our geographical latitudes it is maybe even more widely spread.
Don’t you mean that for this reason you are more sparing in your public appearances? You are not from the actors, who are all the time and in all media.
I think that it is also not necessary to be always and everywhere. And yes, my behaviour is to some extent connected with this, because according to me interesting is the professional life of an artists, not the private one. If I am in some kind of a media space, it is rather because I have what to say on some topic or because I have to advertise something, in which I am taking part. For it is clear that today nothing happens without advertisement. It, however, must be well done. If it is commonplace, it would rather put off the audience. Each thing has to be done with taste.
Rehearsal of “My Father the Painter”, photo Sofia Opera/Svetoslav Nikolov - Chapi
Now you have the possibility to invite the audience to the premiere of “My Father the Painter” …
The premiere spectacles are on 8, 9 and 10 May, at that on 9 May they are two – at 11 and at 19 h. I invite people to one favourite Bulgarian film musical, transferred on the stage of the Sofia Opera – something, which wasn’t done in our country before.
And what is upcoming after that?
Forthcoming for me is a role in a play, staged by Bina Haralampieva based on Dimitar Dimov’s novel “Tobacco” in Varna. We start rehearsals in the end of May.
And the role is of … Boris Morev?
(He laughs) Well, yes.
And who will be Irina?
We still don’t know.
But we already know that Kalin Vrachanski will “jump over” from a film, reproduced on an opera stage, to another one, which will be transferred at the Varna Theatre. And that after Kosta Tsonev’s role you will have to study the role of Yordan Matev too …
Yes, it is so. I think that one of the good moments in the actor’s work is when there is a challenge. I like these challenges, because they are like plunging into a new adventure.
Kalin Vrachanski was born on 9 June 1981 in Cherven Bryag, but his childhood passed in Roman, Mezdra Municipality. He graduated secondary school with “Banking” and the Krastyo Sarafov National Academy for Theatre and Film Arts with major “Acting for Drama Theatre”. He made quite a stir with his roles at the Sofia Theatre (“The Government Inspector”, “Four Rooms”, “Our Lady of Paris”, “Frankenstein”, etc.), at Theatre 199 (“The Raven”, “Miss Yulia”) and Little City Theatre “Off the Channel” (“Bel Ami”), in TV series like “Glass Home” and “The Tree of Life”, in the films “More About Love”, “Smart Christmas”, etc.