The first Bulgarian "Medea" 71 years after Callas
14 Feb 2024SLAVEYKOV Square

The first Bulgarian "Medea" 71 years after Callas

I always imagine Bulgaria as a country with an exceptional opera culture, said Marco Gandini, director of "Medea", the first premiere of the year at the Sofia Opera and Ballet. Gandini has staged all over the world, including at La Scala, has been assistant to a number of directors, most recently the legendary Franco Zeffirelli, and has witnessed dozens of triumphs and sunsets in opera.

"Medea" will be presented for the first time on Bulgarian stage. The opera is by the great composer Luigi Cherubini, one of the masters of French opera from the years of the Revolution and the first half of the 19th century. The libretto by François-Benoît Hoffmann is based on the tragedies of the same name by Euripides, Seneca and Pierre Corneille. Corneille was one of the great French playwrights, which is why the opera is dominated by strong drama and conflict rather than beautiful singing and virtuosity.

Cherubini is not known in our country. The opera "Medea" was revived for the world stage by Maria Callas in 1953; her performance is a benchmark for the interpretation of the image.

In Bulgaria it is staged by an Italian-Bulgarian team. In addition to director Gandini, conductor Francesco Rosa, set designer Andrea Tocchio and costume designer Mario Dice are also Italian. This is not the first time Rosa has worked in Bulgaria; he conducted "Lakmé" and "La Donna del Lago".

Conductor Rosa highlighted the talent of Bulgarian opera singers:

"Few sopranos can perform this role, even in modern times. The perfect voices are here, both vocally and in performance."

The role of Medea is prepared by three singers of the Sofia Opera, known to the audience for their interpretations in great classical operas – the sopranos Gabriela Georgieva, Lilia Kehayova and Diana Lamar. The tenors Daniel Ostretsov and Daniel Damyanov will alternate in the role of Jason. The meeting with the media was attended by the two performers of the role of Créon – Petar Naydenov and Stefan Vladimirov, who explained that during the rehearsals the director required them to dramatize every phrase. Stanislava Momekova and Diana Vasileva will perform the role of Glauce. Violeta Radomirska and Tsveta Sarambelieva will play the role of Néris.

There is no ballet in the original opera, but Marco Gandini decided to include ballet accents in his Sofia production – "I wanted to add a gentle, elegant stylistic element", said the director. The choreography is by Lyudmila Ilieva. The Opera Ballet is also involved.

The costumes were made in Italy by designer Mario Dice, who was not present at today's media meeting as he prepares his fashion show on 20 February for Milan Fashion Week. However, Dice will be present for the premiere of "Medea" in Bulgaria on 23 February.

For the first time in his long career, Rosa will conduct "Medea", which he pointed out was difficult to perform but particularly loved by German composers, most notably Brahms. The conductor explained that "Medea" is set in a late-Verdi style, where the drama is in the words rather than the melody, with deep dramatic meaning embedded in every phrase. The tension in the words – according to the conductor – is reminiscent of Beethoven, Gluck and Mozart.

"Each aria is like a symphony on its own," Rosa said.

The original of "Medea" is in French. Instead of recitatives, it alternates arias, choruses and ensembles with spoken dialogues, which is a specific French operatic style. But in the Italian version of the work, these episodes are turned into recitatives, which are sung rather than recited. Cherubini wrote it for singers with the qualities of great dramatic actors, so to achieve impact and express his idea he did not consider the singers, he did not subordinate the drama to the music.

"Medea" was created for actors to sing. So we can enjoy their acting. But in order to express his idea, Cherubini did not take into account the singers' abilities," Francesco Rosa commented.

Although this is the first time that "Medea" has been heard in Bulgaria, Bulgarian singers have appeared in roles from this work on many occasions on the world's opera stages – Boris Christoff sang the role of Créon in 1955 at the Rome Opera, when Medea was Maria Callas; Nicolai Ghiaurov was also Créon with Callas as Medea in 1961 at the Scala in Milan; and Nicolai Ghiuselev was Créon in 1972. In 1976, Dimitar Petkov was Créon in a production of the Lyon Opera at the Teatro di Roma in Arles; Alexandrina Milcheva was Néris in 1985. Violeta Radomirska was Néris in 2000 in Zurich, Switzerland, and in 2023 in Bergen, Norway; Sonya Yoncheva was Medea in 2018 at the Berlin Opera.

The director Marco Gandini shared his great excitement that he will work in Bulgaria – because Bulgaria for him is the homeland of Ghena Dimitrova, with whom he worked at La Scala and mentions her with pieties:

"Ghena Dimitrova was an exceptional woman. We all still remember her on stage.... I have also worked with Raina Kabaivanska, with Krassimira Stoyanova, with Nicolai Ghiaurov, with Mariana Pencheva, Darina Takova... Even today there are great voices on the opera stage, including in La Scala, but without presence – But here in Bulgaria, the singers have an exceptional presence, as well as the drama of the performance. Including the geographical situation in the context of the myth of Medea, an extraordinary richness, to do this opera for me is extremely interesting."

The premiere of "Medea" is on 23 February, followed by two more performances on 24 and 25 February.