When Tchaikovsky met Tolstoy... in Leo Mujić's ballet on Bulgarian stage
Photo: operaplovdiv.bg - Примабалерината Марта Петкова и премиер солистът Никола Хаджитанев в спектакъла „Анна Каренина“ на Пловдивската опера. Photo: operaplovdiv.bg – The prima ballerina Marta Petkova and the premier soloist Nikola Hadjitanev
26 Jan 2023Bulgarian National Radio

When Tchaikovsky met Tolstoy... in Leo Mujić's ballet on Bulgarian stage

Marta Petkova, Katerina Petrova, Nikola Hadjitanev and Tsetso Ivanov as Anna and Count Vronsky

Author: Elizabet Radkova

"Anna Karenina", the ballet by the highly successful Croatian choreographer Leo Mujić, passed like a meteorite through the Bulgarian cultural space last summer. The choreography, set to music by Pyotr Tchaikovsky and based on Leo Tolstoy's novel of the same name, was staged for the first time in Bulgaria with the Plovdiv Opera and presented at the Opera Open 2022 festival at the Ancient Theatre in Plovdiv. Guest stars were the lead dancers of the Sofia Opera Marta Petkova and Nikola Hadjitanev. In December, the performance was also presented in the capital, at the National Palace of Culture, and Leo Mujić was invited to stage his work at the Sofia Opera. There will be six premiere spectacles of "Anna Karenina" at the Sofia Opera and Ballet, the first on 27 January, followed by 28 and 29 January, and 2, 3 and 4 February.

The audience in Sofia will see a new version of "Anna Karenina" – with changes in the choreography and different set design, explained Leo Mujić. It will be a different spectacle – the choreographer promised.

"We have to offer people the best possible product – the choreographer told Radio Bulgaria. – Because taxpayers deserve to get the best. Ballet productions are extremely expensive. With every production, and I'm very aware of this, it's like we're taking people's money twice. The first time we take it from them to produce the spectacle, and then we sell them a ticket to come see what they paid for."

Лео Муич

Leo Mujić

Leo Mujić explained his working style and how he changes his choreographies according to the composition and the quality of the troupe he works with:

"I'm a relatively young choreographer and I'm always mindful of what kind of people I have. Depending on the level of the troupe, I can work one way or another," says Leo Mujić. The level of the Sofia Ballet is higher than that of the Plovdiv Ballet, I have a bigger cast, several excellent soloists, not just Marta Petkova, so I staged a new, more technically complex version of "Anna Karenina". I work with the people I have, I don't clone my choreographies. There's another thing – when you go to the cinema, if you watch the same film, Brad Pitt will be the same Brad Pitt every time.

While Marta Petkova, Katya Petrova will never be the same, each performance will be completely different – Mujić pointed out. – In the production there will be not only main characters, all roles are important – Dolly, Kitty, Levin, Lydia Ivanovna, Vronsky's mother. There are no small roles, only small artists."

The roles of Anna Karenina and her lover Count Vronsky will be performed by the prima ballerinas Marta Petkova and Katerina Petrova and premier soloists Nikola Hadjitanev and Tsetso Ivanov. In the spectacle will sound the violin of Stoimen Peev from Sofia Quartet, the voices of Alexandrina Stoyanova-Andreeva and Violeta Radomirska, as well as the Sofia Opera and Ballet Orchestra conducted by Andrei Galanov.

In addition to the ballet "Anna Karenina", first staged for the Croatian National Theatre in Zagreb in 2014, Leo Mujić is also the author of the ballets "The Great Gatsby", "Orpheus", "Scheherazade", "Dangerous Liaisons", "A Midsummer Night's Dream" and "Pride and Prejudice". "Next year I will make "Hamlet" in Zagreb," he revealed to Radio Bulgaria. – I like to stage ballets that have never been done. I'll also do "The Count of Monte Cristo", "Queen Margot"..."

When Leo sets his ballets, he usually writes his own libretto and chooses the music. "A successful production is a combination of both – music and story. In this case, it's a great honour for me to be the third person in this incredible collaboration between Tolstoy and Tchaikovsky – of course, they don't know they're collaborating, that we've brought them together – these two incredible names and my little name next to theirs", explains the choreographer. "For "Anna Kareninav, I deliberately chose non-ballet music by the composer. It was very difficult to choose the music because I don't have any special musical training – to choose it in such a way that you have the feeling that it was created for this story – and it isn't!"

"The editing of the music is unusual," Maestro Andrei Galanov commented on the choice of music for the ballet "Anna Karenina". – He has combined different styles – a romance, a violin concerto, a symphony, the programme symphony "Manfred". I accept this compilation. I like it. Some may find it controversial, that's understandable. It's a good thing – there should be controversy in the theatre. But I personally like it very much."

Андрей Галанов

Andrei Galanov

Maestro Galanov also explained that he likes the dynamics of this compilation and noted that the combination of different styles of music goes with the different styles of dance. Tolstoy wrote his book over a large period of time, the conductor reminded, so it is red chapter by chapter, much like today's television series. "Yes, there are many characters in the book. But in this choreography everything is condensed. The focus is on the tragedy, on the conflict," he said.

The ballet's set designer, the Croatian Cvijeta Schwinn, makes some interesting observations: "It is perhaps also appropriate to think about the time when "Anna Karenina" was written – the second half of the 19th century, a period of great changes, many innovations. In the same year that the book was written, the first film was made. It was also the time of other discoveries – the excavation of Pompeii was around that time."

Cvijeta Schwinn recalls being inspired by the discovery that ancient statues were not white and idealistic, but rather painted in bright colours. "It's important what colours we use for the theatre so that the scenery doesn't "steal" attention from the artists. This is how a scientific study can become the basis of a set design for a specific story at a specific time."

Марта Петкова

Marta Petkova

Marta Petkova, the artistic director of the Sofia Opera Ballet, believes that the latest ballet premiere is not only a great addition to the repertoire, but is also valuable for the troupe in other ways – here's why:

"It was important to me that the troupe work with someone like Leo Mujić. I was stunned and shocked by my first meeting with him. I have worked all over the world, in very prestigious theatres. But the kind of work he gives, I've never met. I can say that the troupe loved him very much. He's exceptionally patient working with each of our artists. He doesn't leave the room from 11 in the morning until 8 at night. I don't know how that's possible! So for me it was a very successful move – for the troupe to meet with him and increase the quality of their work", says Marta Petkova.

Photos: Sofia Opera and Ballet, State Opera Plovdiv, Facebook/Andrei Galanov

On the publication worked: Ivan Petrov