How did Wagner’s whole “Ring” appear first in Bulgaria and on the Balkans
08 Jun

How did Wagner’s whole “Ring” appear first in Bulgaria and on the Balkans

The book “My Wagner with Sofia Opera, or a Chronicle of an Adventure” by Acad. Plamen Kartaloff – a tale about the stage director’s artistic apotheosis (excerpt)

The stage director Plamen Kartaloff has struck a balance of his creative feat – the recreation of the whole cycle “Der Ring des Nibelungen”. Photo: Ploshtad Slaveikov

To stage for the first time in Bulgaria and on the Balkans Wagner’s whole cycle “Der Ring des Nibelungen” is an enormous task. To such a thing could be dedicated an entire life. The Director of the Sofia Opera Acad. Plamen Kartaloff undoubtedly was fully aware that this was the crown of his artistic activity. Because of the transiency of the opera productions, too heavy, too large scale to remain infinitely on stage, the stage director has decided to describe his artistic feat in the book “My Wagner with Sofia Opera, or a Chronicle of an Adventure”.

Over 1000 pages has covered the retrospection of the arising of the concept and the realization of the complete cycle “Der Ring des Nibelungen” and other operas by Wagner in Sofia. This is a balance for a 10-years work, not only by Acad. Kartaloff, but by all engaged too – the opera company, the ballet, the set designers, the lighting designers …

“In the four years of the realization for the first time in our country of the long over 15 hours cycle, we worked together with 52 artists, over 200 persons artistic and performing staff and so much more from the technical services, the ateliers and so on. This way every one of us gave his or her personal contribution to the world celebration of the 200th Anniversary of the German composer of genius and thinker Richard Wagner”, commented the Director of the Sofia Opera and Ballet Plamen Kartaloff.

In the tetralogy all soloists are Bulgarian – mainly from the Sofia Opera, and also Bulgarian artists, who make a career in Germany.

About “Der Ring des Nibelungen” there are two or three casts for the lead roles. And even in Wagner’s fatherland there is no company to produce the famous tetralogy only with its own soloists.

In the book are published also the reviews of world experts and critics about “Der Ring des Nibelungen” of the Sofia Opera and Ballet. The reviews extend on entire 300 pages of the book.

Richly illustrated, with hard covers and polygraphically up to standard, the edition of publishing house “Zahari Stoyanov” is at the same time an artistic autobiography, as well as a handbook how to realize an opera spectacle today. The readers will learn a lot about the long days of research, thinking over and creation of such a large cultural product.

We offer you an excerpt from “My Wagner”, given exclusively at the disposal of “Ploshtad Slaveikov” by Acad. Plamen Kartaloff.

… My first meeting in Richard Wagner’s Mecca – Bayreuth, was in the summer of 1970. As a 22-years old student, I swore an oath of my own at his grave that the inspiration from his Theatre and its spectacles, at which I was present, will be a leading beam, illuminating forever my path of stage director. This, however, happened with his works after ca. one hundred and fifty other productions of masters of the Bulgarian, Italian, French and Russian opera treasury after ca. 38 years. I was staging almost all composers, but not Wagner. I compensated my missed chance and my promise in a sequence of seven years with a series of six productions in honour of his 200th Anniversary. In my entire life I was participating super actively and parallel to my work of stage director and management with building and change towards new aesthetic horizons, with unsparing efforts towards new directions, at the expense of beaten traditionally reliable in the years habits and mentality at different levels of administrators, politicians, colleagues and theatres. I had the chance with a new striving to create new artistic ideas and consolidation of music institutions in Bulgaria and abroad. I had courage in the opening of unusual spaces in the open air for opera spectacles, meetings with greatest artists and stages, with different audience and countries. I made Boris Christoff’s dream in foundation of his Academy in Rome come true. For all this I am indefinitely thankful to my family and to the Fortune to justify the responsibilities and the confidence of the people, who trusted in me. I was constantly giving myself up to collaboration and work on organizing and creating of new paths, on which no one has ever dared to set out. To audience in Brazil, Japan, Russia, Germany and other countries I was also giving the chance to recognize Bulgaria as a country with its powerful cultural identity. I am trying, moreover, to create my director's school with loyal artists, enthusiastic in new ideas and sharing the same views. Attracted by inventive thinking to expand together with them the aesthetic and repertoire horizons of the art, which has gathered us and which has many times turned us into a mutual destiny for proving of other direction and alternative truth in producing. I wonder if it was worth the wasting of time and sometimes the hard efforts? The new and unbeaten paths have always tempted me, although boiling small nests of lisping envious persons and ruling disbelievers are hindering the way to progress of ideas with vision. Right here courage and sense has given me the council of the wiseman Confucius:

“Who doesn’t advance every day, every day lags behind”.

“If God is on our side, who can be against us” – I shall allow myself to remind on our side this biblical strophe from the Holy Writ, as a coat-of-arms on a flag, and without fear that we have set to walk one mutual and long way with my colleagues from the Sofia Opera, having chosen one new way, steep and dangerous, towards conquering most difficult peaks with Richard Wagner’s work – the four operas “Das Rheingold”, “Die Walküre”, “Siegfried”, “Götterdämmerung” from the tetralogy “Der Ring des Nibelungen”, immediately after followed by “Tristan und Isolde” and “Parsifal”. All of them produced in only seven years and performed several times, not only with their first performances in Bulgaria, but also with premieres abroad: Bolshoi Theatre of Belarus, Minsk, the Festival, Ljubljana in Slovenia, the medieval town Füssen in Germany and Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow …

… “My Wagner with the Sofia Opera” is really one modest gift in the 130-years long tradition and history of our first opera theatre in its gaining of recognition not by chance on the world opera stage with Wagner’s repertoire – a contribution to the great world tradition of the great German colossus, brought back to life in our country after a long break in the opera repertoire in Bulgaria, but already with his most difficult masterpieces. The present edition is my modest personal contribution as stage director and Director of the first opera theatre of Bulgaria.

Although today, when the whole nation and the world are put on trial by COVID-19, “we are the Sofia Opera” and we continue working with confidence and optimism, so that the new tradition be alive and continued for our national culture with the world-significant for human civilization Richard Wagner and his work in our repertoire…

… About the realization of the first Bulgarian production of the tetralogy, I started thinking in 2008, first not only for Bulgaria, but for the Balkans too. I had the feeling that the Sofia Opera would show it someday also abroad. Prophetic is the certitude of Georgi Yordanov, former Minister of Culture that “Bulgaria is present in the development of the world culture first of all with the art of the opera”. This is already a fact. The history of the creation of Wagner’s “Ring”, and thereafter “Tristan” and “Parsifal”, is long, having passed through many obstacles, sleepless nights, contradictions, regrets. Someone would say: He has chosen to be with your stones on your head.

By me there is one main problem. When I take up something with my inner confidence and certitude in a cause, no one can stop me. I must reach to the end with the idea, I have to complete it in the best way. Naturally, it is not possible to do it all alone, but with a team of loyal adherents, engaging also many other followers, who have believed to come along with me and with the idea.

This way I began still as a student my mission – devoted to the opera as art, as destiny, as life. This continues up to this day already half a century. The intention to forge “Der Ring des Nibelungen” at the Sofia Opera came by chance, spontaneously and with no hesitation during one meeting on the terrasse of the restaurant of the National Theatre “Ivan Vazov”. I invited to lunch the Austrian producer Johann Maurer, who, after the idea of the Director of the Vienna Opera Ioan Halender, provided means for the production of “Salome” by Richard Strauss. At this as if crucial lunch we were talking about the repertoire policy of the theatres in Vienna and Sofia. I told him about my plans as new Director of the Sofia Opera, about my care for new audience – spectators, not tempted to enter the opera so far, about the audience tomorrow.

The strategy of creation and cultivation of young spectators since most early age is not new around the world. But for us is crucial the quick creation of a consecutive and appropriate repertoire. I told before the guest everything, by which I was delighted for a country like Austria because of the cultural needs and interest to the opera of an audience with traditions, created through the centuries. My interlocutor gave me the idea to stage for the young audience “Das Rheingold” by Wagner, the premiere of which had just passed at the Vienna opera. Characters in this fairy-tale opera are giants and swans. This way the work can be appropriate for our most little spectators in Sofia.

After “Salome” by Richard Strauss, I was thinking why not right away Wagner too. It will be a great prestige in my new plans for the repertoire and it will enrich with new authors our so far conventional repertoire. I came back home and I hardly slept a wink during the night. Richard Wagner in my presence as student at the Youth Festival in Bayreuth still in 1970 gave me inspiration and impetus for my career, didn’t it? Immediately after my return exactly from Bayreuth, I decided to found my own opera theatre, didn’t I?

On my own I found means and halls for rehearsals, I organized everything for one chamber cast and I founded the first Youth Opera in Sofia, only with students. Under the piano accompaniment, realized by Penka Domushchieva, was presented for the first time in Sofia and by enormous interest the chamber opera “La vera costanza” by Joseph Haydn. And then we were giving spectacles in villages and towns, where there had never been an opera performance by some big opera theatre in Bulgaria. By my side was already Trifon Silyanovski, one of the greatest names for Bulgarian music culture. Libelled by his colleagues, he was sent in a concentration camp, which interrupted his career of a brilliant pianist. Later he started working as repetiteur at the Sofia Opera. I stirred his enthusiasm for a new theatre and he left his permanent and secure work at the Opera.

In my artistic balance, after taking over the management of the moved from Sofia Youth Opera, having already become Blagoevgrad Chamber Opera, then at the Ruse Opera, the Musical Theatre and the Sofia Opera, I realized that in the years, as recognized stage director, I have never had the stimulus, nor the conditions and the milieu at the theatres, where I was working, to reach out also to Richard Wagner’s music dramas of genius. Probably I didn’t have the courage and the confidence in myself for an alternative of the titles, the traditional for all singers Italian operas. In the sleepless night after my meeting with the Austrian guest I decided. Not just “Das Rheingold”, the first opera from the tetralogy “Der Ring des Nibelungen”, but we shall undertake the staging of the whole cycle, which includes four titles. I admit that I was hardly realizing where to I am going with my intention.

And yet another crazy thing – the singers to be only Bulgarian soloists. Did we have them at the theatre? Who are they? I wasn’t thinking, however, that the roles should be in no way performed by guests from abroad. It means that I had to find them at home! We shall create a new policy about Bulgarian performers of Wagner with our and first Bulgarian “Ring” in Bulgaria. I shall find out the most appropriate singers-actors and I shall stage the tetralogy with the same voices, which sing so well the Italian, Russian and French classic. Probably the Ancient Indian wisdom “If you set on the way of faith into the elevated, you acquire daring and determination.” was accompanying me.

The concept was from 2010 to 2013 every year to show one opera from the cycle, premiere one not only for Bulgaria, but also for the Balkans, so that the Sofia Opera could join the world celebration of the composer’s 200th Anniversary, in 2013 “To spite of the crisis” named his article Stephan Mösch in the Opernwelt magazine.

Courageously I took the responsibility to realize together with the Sofia Opera this big project. Six productions by Richard Wagner, created in seven seasons and maintained as of the moment during ten years (2010 – 2020), with one and the same cast of Bulgarian singers are a solid visit card for the Sofia Opera…

… The second risky moment was the financing of the four titles with a safe budget during four years. I think that one stage director, besides being an artist with his personal vision and style, must also have an economic way of thinking. The providing for such a special project like “Der Ring des Nibelungen” for our Bulgarian conditions seemed a Herculean task. Compared to the European and American budgets for providing of financing for the tetralogy our expenses for its realization are with a much lower prime cost. In Bulgaria the absence of strategy for art management makes operatic art always dependent on the state and the politic classes. In the self-proving with results and the ability to show its own public utility and reach with its purpose to its “user”, only this way the art of the opera could gain recognition, as well as support with economic resources by the society.