PROCESSES IN THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE BULGARIAN MUSICAL THEATRE*
Miglena Tzenova, Rozalia Biks, Anelia Yaneva, Rumjana Karakostova
* The text was written in 2003 and is presenting the entire work of the muscal theatre section. This Section was founded and headed in 1995 by Prof. Rozalia Biks, doctor of science. The Section includes four members: Prof. Rozalia Biks, doctor of science; Dr. Anelia Yaneva, senior research associate 2nd degree; Dr. Rumjana Karakostsova, senior research associate 2nd degree, and Dr. Miglena Tzenova, research associate 2nd degree. The Section has the objective to study, systematise and analyse processes related to the Bulgarian musical theatre: opera, ballet, operetta, and musical. Its activities resulted in the collection volume Bulgarian Musical Theatre. Repertoire. 1890-1997, printed in 1999 by Marin Drinov Publishing House of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences. The second volume has recently been submitted for printing: Bulgarian Musical Theatre. Theatres, Troupes, Performances. 1890-2001. The Musical Theatre Section is now working on a research on Bulgarian performers: conductors, producers, directors, artists, choreographers and chorus masters connected to the Bulgarian musical stage – opera, ballet, operetta and musical. Musical Theatre Section works on a team principle, which does not hinder the members from individual contributions.
PUBLISHED BOOKS AND DISSERTATIONS
(in a chronological order)
KEY WORDS: Bulgarian musical theatre, Opera, Ballet, Operetta, Musical, Performance, Dance-theatre, Conductor, Director, Artist, Choreographer, Chorus master, Singer, Dancer, Actor, Stage designer, Producer
². The Town Choral Tradition as a Prerequisite for the Establishment of Musical Theatres in Bulgaria
In the process of studying the ways the musical-stage art comes to Bulgaria, the town choral tradition and the military brass orchestra come to the fore.
The collected data about the performances of over 150 opera chorus fragments, the hundreds of complete musical-stage productions of the town choirs, the impressing number of more than 120 town choirs engaged in performing choral music and involved in the attempts of establishing musical theatres, and their 131 chorus masters, prove that the stage art has attracted and given pleasure to performers and audience in many cities of the country.
The development of the town choral culture before the establishment of the musical theatres in Bulgaria can be divided into three periods:
The period from the 40-ies of the 19th century to 1890 represents the dawn of the development of the choral activity in the country, when there was no division between school and civil membership. The various tasks assigned to the choirs already upon their founding – school, church, worldly, concert, theatre, stage tasks, etc. – made them irreplaceable in the cultural town life. The more so: the model imposed by the then musical convention, that the choirs should satisfy different musical needs in terms of nature and purpose became characteristic for the town choral practice.
An essential part of it was the participation in theatre performances. After the first Bulgarian drama “Ivanko”, the Bulgarian plays and some of the translated foreign plays foresaw an active musical and choral presence.
Although seldom during that period, town choirs performed opera chorus parts and scenes along with their various creative and applied tasks. Probably, the partial performance of stage works, unlike the subsequent periods, was due to the lack of repertoire (also in translation) and to the humble technical training of the performers.
A certain role for the musical-stage sound environment in Bulgaria during the last two decades of the 19th century played the numerous foreign travelling opera and operetta theatres (most often Italian, but also American and Russian, etc.) performing in different cities of the country and attracting social interest to the stage art. They used local song and instrumental resources (because of their limited abilities as travelling groups with respect to choir and orchestra), and popularised even music by Bulgarian authors; sometimes they performed almost entirely supported by local musicians.
An event for the analysed period and the examined problem is the performance of a complete musical-stage title during 1883. The performed musical piece was studied by several casts, it was accompanied by an orchestra and was performed in a concert way, not in a stage version (which confirms the idea that the concert performance of operas and operettas was a necessary phase of developing and believing in the own abilities before performing stage versions).
The period of the last decade of the 19th century to World War One was the time of the initial differentiating of the types of the choral formations. Repertoire preferences can be outlined in the programmes of the town, the civic and the school choirs, and the part of the sung and played musical-stage repertoire was significantly increasing. Song, musical and musical-stage institutions were established in the country.
The concert performance became characteristic also for the civic (church and worldly) and for the school choirs. The period was topical for the number of choral works in the repertoire of the school choirs, a kind of a compensation and preparation for the still difficult to realise complete productions of operettas. A proof of the connection between the first performances of complete operettas by school choirs and the foundation of specialised institutions for performing complete stage works bore the phenomenon that the future conductors of children musical theatres had very often produced a complete operetta for children (kinder operette) with a school cast before establishing their own children’s group for musical theatre (so called “children’s musical medleys”). Before producing complete operettas some “medleys” tested their stage abilities by performing music for drama-performances. Other groups presented fragments from operettas for children before performing complete theatre musical plays, and then they felt confident enough to offer series of complete operettas for children. That is why the chorus participation in musical-theatre fragments can be regarded during that period as a transitional phase of performing complete musical-theatre plays, on one hand, and as a way, leading to performing complete operettas, on the other hand. Simultaneously, the joint performances of civic choirs and children’s choral formations, which were characteristic for the previous period, between the 19th and the 20th centuries, began to decrease, probably because of the aimed independence of the separate art forms.
The number of the operettas for children realised by school choirs and children’s musical theatres definitely exceeded the number of complete plays for musical theatre carried out by civic choirs and opera theatres. The introducing in the syllabus and in the children’s musical societies of specialised musical courses in choral singing and solo singing (in some cases also in choir leading) enabled the school choirs to prepare and present more difficult repertoire. During the examined period the first stage activities and the musical training of many future opera and operetta choir singers (and instrumentalists), soloists, chorus masters, conductors and composers took place.
In many cities of the country school and civic choirs presented to the audience complete opera and operettas in concert or stage versions. A permanent opera institution was established in the capital; in some other cities (afterwards also in Sofia) children’s musical medleys were founded.
The first Bulgarian opera, the first operettas for children and the first Bulgarian musical comedy were created. Already the first Bulgarian opera “Siromahkinya” (Poor Woman) had an outstanding choral party, which became characteristic of the national opera composer’s style. Probably, the first Bulgarian composers assigned the leading role to the choir because of their many years’ experience as conductors and bandmasters and their being well acquainted with the abilities of the performers and with the conditions of the town choirs. This hypothesis applied even to a greater extend to the children’s operettas, especially to those created by the conductors of the chorus-theatre formations. The assumption that the Bulgarian composers knew in detail our performers’ abilities was confirmed by the fact that many Bulgarian operas were staged in different cities of the country.
The newly created national works were played also at the capital Operna Druzhba (Opera Friendship). Like the popularisation of the national musical-stage works for children initiated by the Plovdiv children’s musical medeley of Dimo Boychev, on the stage of the Bulgarian Operna Druzhba were produced three more Bulgarian operas “Kamen i Tsena”, “Borislav” and “Tahir Begovitsa”, not even a year after the performance of the first Bulgarian opera (“Siromahkinya” -1910). Later on the Operna Druzhba staged “Gergana”, “Makedonya Svobodna”, etc. And again, like the destiny of the Bulgarian operettas for children and young people, the Bulgarian operas were played not only in the cities regarded as musical centres (Sofia – with the first plays for adults, and Plovdiv – with the first performances for children).
The Bulgarian musical-stage works gradually replaced the stage repertoire of foreign authors (the phenomenon applied mostly to the children’s musical groups) or became the first complete stage performances realised by citizens in different non-capital cities.
The comparison between the opera repertoire of foreign authors in the form of chorus fragments outside the capital and the complete operas of foreign authors at the Sofia Operna Druzhba shoes repetition of most of the titles. The possibilities of composing a repertoire were similar, and similar was probably also the interest of the audience and the that of the performers in the capital and outside it.
Most of the chorus fragments, larger excerpts and complete stage realisations were accompanied by a brass or string orchestra, and more seldom (some of the fragments and complete works in the 90-ies of the 19th century) were accompanied on the piano. The civic choirs were supported by civic orchestras, and the school choirs – by school instrumental groups. An interesting fact was that the performances of the children’s musical groups were accompanied by professionals from the military brass orchestras, which shows the serious attitude of the participants and of the professional musicians towards the activities of the children’s musical theatres.
The first children’s musical group (medley) was established outside the capital. Just few years later such children’s formations were established in many cities throughout the country. In Sofia the establishment of children’s musical groups was connected with the moving of the founder of the children’s musical medleys to the capital, and does not have a separate regional (or national) significance, because it happened after the establishment of the stage institutions for adults, and had not preceded or prepared them, as it was the case in the non-capital cities.
In the period between the two world wars the opera choirs and the larger chorus fragments were even better absorbed in the repertoire of the civic, the worldly and the school choirs compared to the time until the end of World War One. There was no great difference in the selected opera excerpts for studying and performing between the two chorus types (civic and school choirs), probably because of the same chorus masters and of the similar level of artistic proficiency of the two formations’ types (the civic choirs were already as good as the school groups).
The opera music was treated differently by the different choral formations. Some of them used it for the sake of variety in their concert programmes. The opera music took different parts of the repertoire during the different developmental phases of the choirs most often according to the preferences and the creative aspirations of the leading conductors. A great deal of the civic choirs and especially of the musical-song societies understood the performance of opera music as their main objective and the opera choirs were regularly on the programme. In these cases the separate chorus fragments and opera scenes represented a way of approaching the audience and testing its reaction, on the one hand, as well as testing its own abilities regarding such a large-scale purpose, on the other hand. The different musical-song societies had most often such objectives.
Some choirs and musical-song societies prepared directly complete musical-song titles, without the initial experience of performing chorus and orchestra fragments.
Sometimes civic and military musicians gathered to realise a single musical-stage performance and afterwards the formation would break up.
A number of attempts were undertaken outside the capital to found opera and operetta theatres – in Russe, Plovdiv, Pleven, Veliko Tarnovo, in the most cities there were more than one initiatives. The first permanent opera theatre outside the capital was established in Stara Zagora. Complete choirs or singers from different civic choirs were engaged in the opera or the operetta choirs during the attempts of establishing the musical theatres. The chorus circles produced most often the future soloists of regional, national and world significance: Anna Todorova, Lyuben Minchev, Mihail Popov, Hristo Brambarov, Katya Popova, Lyuba Velich, Panayot Dimitrov (Oteto), Rayna Getsova-Mihailova, Stefan Georgiev (Hernani), Boris T. Hristov, Dimitar Hristov, Nichka Hadzhimiteva-Batalova, Georgi Batalov, Yordan Chifudob, Angel Sladkarov, Mimi (Ruska) Balkanska, etc.
The musical theatres in the capital and in the province differed significantly in their characteristics and activities because of variety of reasons. The concentration of inventive administrators in the capital, the more and the better qualified artists, the better possibilities for fund raising and the adopted model of shareholder’s subsidising of the theatres enabled quickly the professional implementation of the activities undertaken in the capital. In searching for the best way of creative existence the instructors often left the theatres they had founded or moved to new forms of musical-stage institutions. Some of the most popular figures “migrated” from one theatre to another taking with themselves some of the performers.
The frequent repetitions of one title in the capital, contrary to the province, where there were just few of them, was due to the greater number of music lovers in the capital and to the popularity of the selected titles.
The search for attractive and non-standard repertoire solutions aimed at filling the halls made the operetta theatres stage opera titles. The critique met with positive reviews the choice of an opera repertoire at the operetta theatres. The idea was also new to the audience in the operetta hall, because the opera titles remained for a long time on stage for dozens of performances.
Studying the stage music in the activities in the many town choirs shows some general tendencies. The chorus-stage practice in the country developed from performing concert fragments to performing complete works in a stage versions. Very more often performing of fragments and complete titles, with culmination between the two world wars, prepared the choir singers for participation in musical theatres. Introducing of complete musical-stage titles in the repertoire of the worldly and church choirs and the establishment of some temporary theatre institutions were so typical for the cultural-historical development of the cities, that they show the mature spiritual needs of the Bulgarians to enjoy this kind of art, and to “make” it or present it. The spiritual need to form communities as the song and musical societies and the chorus ensembles partly explains the large number of choirs on the not so big territory of Bulgaria. The same socio-spiritual need was reflected in the “community” of the opera plays.
The opera concert chorus performances compensated to a great extend the lack of musical theatres in the non-capital cities with their large-scale and varied opera repertoire and performers’ achievements. Even after their establishment some musical theatre did not abandon their recent performing of opera chorus fragments. This feature was especially characteristic for the theatres resulted from musical-song societies. Their choir singers made an easily accessible tradition out of presenting opera excerpts. Some of the children’s musical theatres and the most of the school choirs presented also opera choirs in concert versions along with their stage realisations.
Part of the stage activities of the civic and school choirs was directed to music of drama plays. During the last decade of the 19th century the choir often became an acting character in the theatre performances. There was no clear interaction observed between civic chorus and theatrical initiatives during the next period. Although some musical-song and theatre societies continued working under the same roof, the opera and the theatre moved away from each other and constituted themselves as “pure genres”. Simultaneously, the children’s theatre plays with chorus participation served as a creative means used by some chorus groups before producing musical-stage works. During the next period school choirs participated in complete theatre plays. There was a similarity in the musical performance of theatre plays for children and the children’s chorus work until the end of World War One – chorus fragments of theatre plays and opera excerpts were performed before the presentation of complete musical illustrations to theatre plays or operettas for children. Chorus illustrations to theatre plays for adults and synthetic musical-theatre forms appeared again in the period between the two world wars as new expressive messages.
The complete stage realisations in the activities of the two types, the civic and the school choirs, developed relatively in parallel during the different historical periods. But the preconditions hereto were not identical. The school chorus groups underwent a development starting with the establishment of children’s musical medleys, the town chorus formations founded especially to perform stage music and due to its achieved goal became the first forms of musical theatre on a chorus-song basis. This type of chorus formation expanded and was characteristic for the period until the end of World War One. After the end of the war the school groups with musical training traditions and some of the singers and the instructors participating in children’s musical theatres were able to produce complete operas and operettas for children with their own powers outside the children’s musical groups. The wave of school stage realisations absorbed the efforts of secondary, primary and elementary school choirs, which made superfluous the maintaining of the town children’s musical theatres and they gradually fell away from the chorus-stage life.
As a performers’ characteristic the children’s musical theatres were entirely chorus formations. The complete musical-theatrical school plays were performed by secondary, primary and elementary school choirs mostly with an orchestra accompaniment.
The opera art as history, solo and chorus singing, etc. was encompassed by the syllabus. The stage realisations became a way of a creative expression, by means of which the school conductors gained popularity. Thus the great number of stage realisations was quite normal.
The variety of the stage production aimed at by the instructors of the musical stage orientated school choirs and children’s musical theatres was the reason for the creation of a new conductor-composer’s repertoire often on a regional basis, which sometimes developed into a national repertoire.
The activities of the many school groups, especially the choirs, practically prepared the musical lovers for developing a lasting concept and attraction to the musical-stage genres. The instructors led by their love to the children understood that maintaining a children’s musical theatre was much more easy and possible than maintaining a theatre for adults. Obviously, a proof hereof was the productivity of the opera-operetta activity for children and young people multiply exceeding the number of realisations at the theatres for adults during the same period. The moving play of the young artists increased the number of the admirers of the musical-stage art, and many children won their way in the world by it.
The gradual increase of the number of musical-stage fragments performed by the civic choirs cultivated artistic skills and the criteria of the audience naturally generating a desire for a more serious acquaintance with the musical-stage genres with preparing and performing of complete plays.
Only the first attempt to establish a musical theatre for adults (1890) started without the contribution of town choirs. All musical-theatrical initiatives during the 19th century were supported by the (solo and choral) singers of the town choirs. Sometimes just one choir with all its singers was involved in the initiatives producing afterwards most of the soloists, and the conductor of the choir naturally became the chorus master of the theatre. In other cases the opera or the operetta choirs consisted of singers from almost all town choirs, and the chorus master was most often a musician focusing on the chorus and stage music in his town.
The most song and musical societies had besides their choirs (most often male and mixed) also an own orchestra. Like the educational activity within the choirs there was a musical education of the town instrumentalists within the orchestras too; in most of the cases the societies organised educational courses of students, future soloists and instrumentalists, who became afterwards chorus and/or orchestra conductors. There were also orchestras accompanying the town choirs, especially for the performance of stage music and, more seldom, of cantatas and oratorios. In some cases choir singers playing an orchestra instrument supported the musical-stage initiatives as members of the orchestra, and not of the choir. Sometimes opera chorus masters participated in the orchestra or the musical theatres. (Later on we can observe the reverse tendency – a first violinist/a concertmaster fulfilled also chorus master’s functions). Because of the special training required and because of the uneasy access to instruments the orchestras were fewer in number compared to the choirs in the town musical life.
A great role for the establishment of the opera-operetta musical environment in the cities played the military brass bands, which consisted of professional musicians. They often performed opera overtures and potpourris; they supported (against a certain money reward) the realisation of complete operas and operettas performed by citizens and students; they participated in the initiatives of founding musical theatres for adults. Most often the orchestras accompanying the choirs at the performance of complete operas, operettas and operettas for children were formed with this special purpose including musicians from military or civic brass bands, from various society and town symphonic orchestras, and sometimes they included even musical lovers-amateurs.
When a complete musical-stage work had to be realised by means of a symphonic, brass or mixed orchestra the functions of the conductor and the chorus master were strictly differentiated and had to be carried out by two different musicians. But when the choirs possessed their own orchestra especially formed for supporting the performance, the conductor of the choir (the chorus master) became a conductor of the whole performance.
With the appearance of the non-capital theatres for adults the children’s musical-theatrical realisations faded away. They would be called back to life again in the 80-ies of the 20th century with the establishment of a national stage work for children (operas, musicals, fairy tails).
There was a similar tendency of the sudden decrease in the stage repertoire within the concert activity of the town choirs – on the one hand, because of the existence of stage institutions, and on the other hand, because of a genre profiling of the performers’ groups after the end of World War Two.
The process of transition from town to opera choirs was open in time – it was observed during the foundation of musical theatres in the country after 1945.
The already established opera and operetta institutions continued to co-operate with town (civic and school) choirs with regard to large-scale productions of operas, which also was an open-in-time process.
²². The Bulgarian opera theatre
An art – a combination between different arts, each one of them having also its own way, the Bulgarian opera theatre, had its ups and downs, its stagnation in a permanent fight for independence to constitute in a company of actors, staff members, to become an institution with a house, money and rules. In Bulgaria the fight began at the end of the 19th century and resulted in a formation called Opera Department of the Capital Dramatic-Opera Company – a name suggesting the second, also very severe, fight for existence, the division of means and biases of the people from the dramatic theatres. Since than, decade after decade, the things happening in Sofia had to be repeated as cultural development in every well urbanised and lively city of the country. In the beginning were excerpts, chorus, orchestra, ensemble scenes, afterwards followed performances, companies were formed with great motivation, as well as ensembles and little groups, talents, patrons and fans were attracted, fights were carried out for understanding and support, and in the end was the inevitable conclusion “the company is dissolved because of lack of means and interest from the state”. It could not be otherwise: the well-done opera performance was expensive … this was why only the Sofia Opera could manage it, which after a state subsidy in 1922 could strengthen its aesthetic position and level it up as a first-class theatre of the European professional tradition.
The effort of the citizens of Stara Zagora turned out also to be sustainable and lasting. Since the 20-ies of the 20th century the theatre there has existed on the basis of local powers and a humble state subsidy maintaining the same tradition and its own audience, that would stick to the theatre also in the future.
This was the art development of the Bulgarian opera theatre until the end of World War Two: concentrated in only one institution, entirely financed by the state. A theatre with a broad, comprehensive aesthetic platform of artists able to defend it. Verdi and Vladigerov, Wagner and Rimski-Korsakov, Puccini and Massenet, Tchaykovski and Weber felt comfortable there. In mutual tolerance there worked the Bayreuth trained Dragan Kardzhiev and the Moscow graduate Hitio Popov, Assen Naydenov and Tsanko Tsankov, Aleksandar Milenkov and Pencho Georgiev, Evgenij Vashtenko and Andromaha Argirova, the prominent foreigners Issay Dobroven, Emil Cooper, Edmondo de Vecci. A theatre prepared to follow the wind of progress in full swing wherever it bows to.
The events of 1944 harshly changed this orientation. From an art of the educated and wealthy the opera after the model of the “big brother” (USSR) had to be transformed into an art for the people and the masses. To the attractive changes, like repertoire shift and its interpretation, organised visits, lecture courses, festivals, reviews, competitions, etc. belonged also the cleverly planned and well implemented decentralisation of the opera art in the country. At first, the state started completely to finance the Opera in Stara Zagora and established adequate opera institutions in Varna, Russe and Plovdiv. Fifteen years later such centres of the professional opera culture were founded in Burgas, Pleven and Blagoevgrad. The groups were formed by experienced people, well-educated and similarly thinking in terms of ideology. The separate mechanisms started working quickly and well governed, and ensured a lasting artistic growth. Already in the middle of the 60-ies it was possible to compare the favourite, the Sofia Opera, enjoying more generosity from the state, with some achievements of the non-capital opera theatres. An honoured place in the repertoire took Bulgarian opera works, either newly created, or from the not too distant past. Opera works came to light, which did not belong to the preferred 19th century West-Europe and Russia. The separate theatres gained their own specificity. The Opera in Stara Zagora was known by its repertoire and expressive modesty of the whole ensemble development; the Opera in Varna was a theatre made a visible progress in its stage design and production; the Opera in Russe always had first-class protagonists; the Plovdive Opera was a theatre with the best modern understanding of synthesis in the musical theatre.
With some slight disturbances in the constant artistic development the progress continued during the 70-ies and up to the 80-ies. A time, when the ideological “uncurbing” and the more frequent contacts with the countries also outside the community enabled the artists of the Bulgarian opera theatre to direct their attention to the space of the West-European 20th century opera. The Opera in Blagoevgrad governed skilfully and ambitiously received the acknowledgement on behalf of Bulgaria as a country with a well-developed chamber opera culture. Close to the public preferences and in accordance with the local traditions the theatres in Pleven and Burgas found also their own ways. The first one had an appearance similar to that of the opera theatres in Varna and Russe, the second one was closer to the ideas of the Plovdiv Opera. Gradually, through the often guest-performances mostly with a Russian repertoire worked out in co-operation with Soviet producers, the companies changed their image – from theatres with famous singers, soloists and opera choirs to ensemble theatres of full value. At the same time, in the heart of the system grew destructive processes. The valuable gain of the artists having an assured income became an insuperable obstacle. The groups were exhausted from the burden of the acting Labour Code. The unqualified groups damped the interest for the performances and the genre itself.
In the middle of the 80-ies there was a visible decrease enhanced by the general crises in the genre also outside Bulgaria. The process developed differently during the last decade of the 20th century. In the countries of the former community, and especially in Russia, the opera and the opera theatre firmly belonged to the culture of the population in the big cities and after a short destabilisation they found their ground again meeting the understanding of their governments. In the West this culture was part of the social prestige of the wealthy, something like the bridge and the tennis, and as such remained an integral part of the education of their generations and of the financial care for it. Nothing like the above happened in Bulgaria. Without the serious state financial support and without the strata of society with an established attitude to the genre and able to financially support it, the Bulgarian opera theatre suffered lacking institutionalisation and stable social position. Without a house, the buildings were there, but the theatres could not maintain them, without money and action rules, the theatres existed formally, but just drifting along. The state was gradually drawing back from its governing and supporting the theatres trying to unite them and the orchestra in the big cities, an organisation not typical of our hereto prevailing traditions. Ensuring the decreasing permanent staff the state actually excluded the artistic work of the theatres intervening with single subsidies for particular performances. Left alone to cope with the means for their productions the theatres started to get used to management and sponsorship focussing on the income from the guest-performances abroad. Impresario units of different duration appeared in the various cities looking for contacts and forming groups for particular engagements, thus the degree of compromises becoming unfixed within the otherwise positive framework of visits of whole theatres or part of them abroad.
This is the picture of the Bulgarian opera theatres at the beginning of the 21st century. They expect the miracles to rationalise and utilise in another way the gained experience, as well as the never failing amazing supply of rich and beautiful Bulgarian opera voices.
III. The ballet in Bulgaria
The Bulgarian ballet began its independent way with the inevitable absorption of the European traditions in the classical and the modern dance, which was characteristic for the late established dance cultures. Already in the beginning the developmental differences could be noticed. While in the European ballet the classical dance was formed on the basis of a centuries-long improvement and cultivation of the folklore dance, in Bulgaria it was constituted in its accomplished form due to the visits of Russian performers. Bulgaria got acquainted with the modern dance (mainly free flowwing style, created by Isadora Duncan and German modern expressive dance created by Rudolf von Laban and Mary Wigman) also through the visits of artists and dance groups from West-Europe. And again, skipping long years of searching the right way, the Bulgarian ballet met the modern dance in its accomplished form. The different nuances in its mastering and the co-ordination with its own resources came mainly from the centuries-old traditions of the Bulgarian folklore dance and from the continuously practised light dance in Bulgaria. Actually, the development of the ballet art and its corresponding formations combined the borrowed ready models and techniques of expression from abroad with the free interaction between them and the characteristics of the Bulgarian ritual folklore dance.
The mastering of the dance vocabulary and the setting up of a repertoire by the ballet companies can be divided into three groups:
There is a chronological differentiation in each of them:
During the years 1908-1928 a ballet company has been slowly and gradually formed thanks to some Bulgarian artists trained abroad, the gymnastics teachers (Pesho Radoev, Ruska Koleva, Aleksandar Dimitrov). On the basis of the learned dance material they realised dances in operas and in drama performances. The possibility of an independent ballet production arose not until two decades later, and the first night of the ballet “Coppelia” by Delibes (choreographer Anastas Petrov) marked the birthday of the Bulgarian professional ballet, February 22, 1928.
After 1929 until the mid-30-ies the ballet performances concentrated only on concert participation because of severe staff cuts.
The decade until the end of the war was characterised by the performances of some classical masterpieces, although not in their original versions, but edited by the guest-choreographers Max Frohmann (“The The Sleeping Beauty”, “Polovtsian Dance”) and Lidya Valkova-Beshevich (“Swan Lake”), as well as in the choreography of Anastas Petrov (“The Prince Poet”, a version of “Les Sylphides” and “Raymonda”). The posters included works with no choreographic original (“The Green Flute”, “Franceska da Rimini”, “Apollo and Daphne”, “Firebird”, “Bollero”, “Prometheus”). The first ballets after Bulgarian plots with Bulgarian music were produced (“Dragon and Yana”, “Fire-Dancing Woman”, “Fairy-tale”, “Trakya”, “German”). The artists tried to establish a national choreographic vocabulary, close in its expression to the folklore dance, but ennobled by the laws of the classical dance (by Anastas Petrov), or following the aesthetics of the German modern expressive dance (by Maria Dimova).
After the end of World War Two the development of the ballet in the country changed significantly its direction. The Bulgarian ballet has remained under the influence of the Russian ballet school for a long time. It was simultaneously introduced in the theatres and the educational institutions (1945-1951). The strong Russian presence during these years imposed the classical ballet as the only one model to imitate. The Russian (Soviet) choreographers introduced the aesthetics of the Drambalet as a main creative method in the ballet performances in Sofia (“Fountain of Bakhchisaray”, “Rivals”, “Dr. Ohboli”, “The Red Poppy”). The Russian (Soviet) teachers educated a large number of ballet dancers according to the academic criteria of the classical ballet underlying the principles of the Bulgarian pedagogical ballet school. A State Ballet School was founded in Sofia in 1951 replacing the than existing private ballet schools of Pesho Radoev (1914) and Anastas Petrov (1927), and raising the professional ballet education to a higher level. One by one permanent ballet companies were established at the non-capital theatres in Varna (1948), Stara Zagora (1949), Russe (1952), Plovdiv (1957), Burgas (1958), Pleven (1975), where the dates mark their first independent ballet performances. In some of them the initial image was shaped by Russian emigrant artists – Anna Vorobjova led the companies in Stara Zagora, Plovdiv and Russe. Other ballet companies resulted from the creative activities of non-academic artists and choreographers well acquainted with the classical dance, but more inclined to free experiments with it: in Varna, and later on in Russe – Assen Manolov; in Pleven – Nikolay Nikolov; in Burgas – Dora Varieva. The ballet company at the Sofia Opera became representative for the country. The others compared themselves with it.
In the period 1952-1964 some changes in our repertoire policy could be detected. The works of Assen Manolov, Zhivko Bisserov, Teodorina Soycheva, Bogdan Kovachev, all of them having no specialised education in ballet staging, contributed to the composing of a different repertoire at the non-capital theatres as compared to the repertoire in Sofia. The Bulgarian choreographers tried to break through the formalised artistic devices of Drambalet in their versions of “Rivals”, “The Red Poppy”, “Fountain of Bakhchisaray”. Their realisations differ from the commonly accepted performances of Bulgarian Ballets (“Kardzhalij”, “Tatari”, “The Madara Rider”), but they remained of regional significance. At the same time the Soviet choreographers were preferred in the capital. As representatives of a country with centuries-long experience and skills in the genre they respectively left the imprint of their national thinking on the artistic interpretation of the Bulgarian material in its best manifestations (“A Haidouk Song”, 1953 è “A Legend of the Lake”, 1962) becoming a model for realisation of the next similar titles.
During the next two decades Bulgarian choreographers trained in stage production in Russia (Nina Kiradzhieva, Georgi Abrashev, Galina and Stefan Yordanovi, Peter Lukanov, Margarita Arnaudova, Pavlina Ivanova) have been appointed choreographers at leading Bulgarian companies. In this period their taste defined the appearance and the development of the ballet companies in Bulgaria. They and Assen Gavrilov specialised in Leningrad implement in their versions of “Classic Syphony”, “Leningrad Symphony”, “Spartak”, “Goryanka”, “On the Way of Thunder”, etc. solutions they have acquired in Russia. The Bulgarian choreographers assimilated also classical ballet masterpieces in their choreographic original (“Giselle”, “Don Quixote”, “The Nutcracker”, “The The Sleeping Beauty”, “Swan Lake”). In the ballets of the Bulgarian composers the Russian model has prevailed for a long time. An exception hereto was the work of Bogdan Kovachev (“The Silver Slippers”, “Sofia Fair”, “The Spring of the White-legged Woman”) changing with its ideas and choreographic solutions the established stereotype. “The Shadow” of Margarita Arnaudova was different, too. The ballet at the State Musical Theatre has also staged ballet performances since 1962 initially founded in favour of the operetta performances. A unique aspect of the musical-stage life in the country offered the experimental ballet studio “Arabesk” (1967), whose performances for the first time were not connected with the opera or the operetta repertoire.
Processes typical of the West-European and the American ballet cultures have begun to influence the choice of ballet works since the 80-ies. Choreographic solutions of authors outside the scope of the socialist countries were transferred to the Bulgarian stage, guest-choreographers were invited, the interest in the modern ballet was growing, i.e. the jazz-dance, the Graham-dance style, the step-dance style, etc. The period until 1995 was characterised by the increased interest in prominent nouns and companies (Beetles, Jean-Michel Jarre, etc.) aimed at attracting the attention of the young people. This inevitably changed the choreographers’ interpretations, who applied modern dance techniques implementing the European model in the Bulgarian environment.
After 1996, when a Competition for Contemporary Choreography with a prise in honour of Margarita Arnaudova was established, solutions of Bulgarian authors began to dominate searching for expression not imported from abroad. The recent years were characterised by experiments in the field of the dance theatre. The ballet “Arabesk” took a leading position in those initiatives. New works were sporadically staged at the Sofia Opera (“451 after Fahrenheit”, “Alice in Wonderland”), but in general, the Sofia ballet had to share its leading role with non-capital companies.
The preferred choreographic vocabulary is different for the separate stages:
A mixture of various learned or just seen dance movements from gymnastic exercises, Bulgarian folklore dances, classical dance elements, light dances, free expression have been used since the beginning of the 20th century up to the first independent ballet performance of dances to opera and drama plays. Students of the gymnastic courses of Ruska Koleva, Aleksandar Dimitrov, Pesho Radoev (who established the first private ballet school in 1914) participated on a part-time basis in the dance performances.
After 1928 in our ballet repertoire coexisted classical dance productions and performances realised on the basis of the of the free flowing style and the German modern expressive dance. Experimental solutions and individual inspirations in the modern dance interacted with the academic classical dance and provided the basis for the ballet art in Bulgaria. The first educated ballet dancers (among them Anastas Petrov, Nadya Vinarova, Nina Kiradzhieva, Lili Beron, Lyuba Kolchakova, Valja Verbeva, Zhivko Bisserov, etc.) specialised in their majority in classical ad free expressive dance in West-Europe (Germany and France) and thus could master equally well the two artistic devices. The private ballet school of Anastas Pertov has been functioning since 1927, where a number of ballet performers have been educated, future soloists and ensemble dancers.
After the end of World War Two the classical dance became a dominating artistic device. A great number of the artists specialised or studied in Russia. The State Ballet School (with the only subject “Classical Dance” – in 1951) helps mastering the classical dance; the school developed to the State Choreographic School /SCS/ (with two subjects – “Classical Dance” and “Bulgarian Folklore Dances”) in 1956. The influence of the classical dance on the non-capital companies was weaker, where the free expression was used more often, also because of the lack of qualified performers.
In the 80-ies the ballet repertoire opened to new means of expression, such as Graham-dance style, jazz-dance, Cunningham-dance style. The contacts with the Western dance schools became more intensive and performances realise by means of the modern dance were introduced in our ballet repertoire. The ballet artists, the most of them Moscow or Leningrad graduates, enriched their experience by specialising in West-Europe or by participating in international ballet competitions.
The young ballet performers got the chance to get acquainted along with the classical dance also the modern artistic devices in the 90-ies. Their training began already as students at the SCS, where Graham-dance style and jazz-dance were thought. This broadened their creative potential and made the more competitive, many of them dancing in prestigious classical and contemporary companies all over the world.
The ballet repertoire in Bulgaria was based on three direcsion:
The main classical repertoire ballets “Giselle”, “The The Sleeping Beauty”, “Swan lake”, “Don Quixote”, “Raymonda”, “The Nutcracker”, “Le Corsaire”, “Silfida”, “La fille mal garde”, “Les Sylphides”, “Grand Pas” of the ballet “Paquita”, “Grand Pas” of the ballet “Bayadere”, “Grand Pas de Quatre” by Perrot-Dolin. The ballets “Coppelia” and “The Fairy Doll” are often associated with them because of the almost obligatory classical vocabulary they require. The ballet companies attracting more professionally trained dancers, mainly SCS graduates, were more interested in the classical repertoire. There were many classical titles in the Sofia ballet, and in the ballet companies of Varna and Russe; More seldom such works were played in Stara Zagora, Plovdiv, Burgas. In Pleven there were just some performances. The classical titles were initially staged by Russian choreographers, who realise mainly their own versions of the originals (“The The Sleeping Beauty”, “Polovtsian Dance” and “Sheherazada” staged by Max Frohmann in Sofia editing the solutions of Marius Petipa and Michail Fokin). In the middle of the 20th century the lasting presence of Russian and Soviet choreographers, Nikolay Holfin, Vladimir Belij, Feya Balabina, contributed to acquainting the Bulgarian public with fragments from “Swan Lake”, “Don Quixote”, “The The Sleeping Beauty”, and then with the complete works à (“The The Sleeping Beauty”, “Giselle”, “Swan Lake”, and shortly afterwards “Les Sylphides”, “Grand Pas” of the ballet “Bayadere”, “Grand Pas” of the ballet “Paquita”, “Silfida”, and at last “Grand pas de quatre”) in their original choreographic forms. In Varna even “Le Corsaire” by Adam was played unknown until than to the Bulgarian audience. Sometimes and more as an exception Bulgarian choreographers offered also their own versions of classical works: Anastas Petrov (“Giselle” and “Raymonda” at the Sofia Opera), Assen Manolov (“Giselle”, “Swan Lake” and “The Nutcracker” in Russe), Galina and Stefan Yordanovi (their own editions of established versions). Later on, Bulgarian choreographers educated in Russia (USSR) transfer the classical works to Bulgaria sticking strictly to the originals.
The 20th century modern musical performances require also modern artistic devices, which in the first place meant a free, individual for each choreographer expression. Companies, which were not well grounded in the field of the classical dance preferred the free expression. Then, the solutions concentrated on the free expression and the created works were orientated towards an intense artistic presence and individuality. Arabesk Ballet was focussing on the modern dance not because it could not maintain a classical repertoire, but because of the clearly stated aesthetic position and the sufficient training of the dancers in the field of the modern dance, although all artists were SCS graduates. The 20th century music was met with interest and understanding in Plovdiv, Russe, Stara Zagora, and more seldom so in Varna, Pleven, Burgas. Works requiring a smaller artistic staff and dancers not well trained in the classical dance were preferred. This provided the opportunity for the capital theatres to establish an original ballet repertoire, which had not to be compared with the classical choreographic masterpieces (such a restriction functioned as a kind of a censorship at the National Opera when composing a repertoire). For a while and thanks to the individual efforts of the choreographers Assen Manolov, Teodorina Stoycheva, Bogdan Kovachev, Peter Lukanov, the non-capital theatres bore the palm with regard to varied and multi-genre repertoire. The interest towards the 20th century composers visibly grew after the mid- 60-ies. A total of 11 works of Stravinski were staged in Bulgaria for 21 times (“Firebird”, “Jeu de cartes”, “Le Histoire du soldat”, “Orpheus”, “Petrushka”, “Le Sacre du printemps”, “Pulcinella”, “Wedding”, “La Baiser de la fee”, “Agon”, “Apollon Mussagete”); 28 times Prokofiev is on the ballet poster, with his most played 7 titles (“The Prodigal Son”, “The Stone Flower”, “The Classic Symphony”, “Cinderella”, “Petya and the Wolf”, “Romeo and Julia”, “Alla and Lollij”); a total of 21 realisations underwent 4 of the Ravel works (“Bolero”, “La Valse”, “Pavana pour une infante defunte”, “Daphnis and Chloe”); there were 17 choreography versions after 5 Gershwin compositions (“An American in Paris”, “A Concert in F”, “A Cuban Overture”, “Porgy and Bess”, “Rhapsody in Blue”). The existence of an European model was a useful starting point for different interpretations in Bulgaria, even when this model was opposing the then prevailing concepts.
Ballet works with Bulgarian themes were staged by all ballet groups, but mostly at the Sofia Opera and by the Arabesk Ballet, and less so in Russe and Varna. The heroic works predominated: “Haidouk Song”, “The Light Overflows Everything”, “Kaloyan’s Daughter”, “A Matter of Life and Death”, “The Goat’s Horn”, and works with legendary plots were also very popular: “The Legend of the Lake”, “The Spring of the White-legged Woman”. More seldom comic ballets were played: “Fair in Sofia”, and the ballet-fairy-tales: “Dragon and Yana”, “The Silver Slippers”. The interest towards the national author’s plots increased in the second half of the 20th century. During the last years there have been performed over 700 ballet works in Bulgaria, multi-act, one-act and chamber works (excluding the ballet miniatures for competitions or concerts, and for television shows). A total of 130 of all performances were based on Bulgarian composers’ music, and the most frequently played composers were Marin Goleminov - “Fire-Dancing Woman” (14 productions in Bulgaria, 3 abroad), “The Night before Midsummer Day” (2 productions), “Kaloyan’s Daughter” (1 production). One-act ballets were also staged after the music of Marin Goleminov, where the choreographers implied meaning unprovided for by the composer. In this way were created: “A Little Love Saga” and “Ostinato” (by Arabesk Ballet), “Micro-quartet ” (in Russe), “At Piece in the World” (in Burgas), etc. – on the whole 24 productions on Marin Goleminov’s music. There were 9 settings of “The Spring of the White-legged Woman” and “Haidouk Song” by Aleksandar Raychev. The music of Krassimir Kjurkchijski found an unanimously approval in the ballet “The Goat’s Horn” and four more orchestra works (“A Ballad of the Self-portrait”, “Diaphonic Study and Adagio”, “Spring Mood”, “Symphony Requiem”). Four productions enjoyed the ballets of Zhul Levi (“Fair in Sofia”) and Parashkev Hadzhiev (“The Silver Slippers”). “The Legend of the Lake” by Pancho Vladigerov was staged twice, and “The Shadow” by Aleksandar Tekeliev was only shortly played at the Sofia Opera despite its rich choreographic ideas and excellent interpretation. The interest in Bulgarian music not especially written for ballets has increased in the last decades. Margarita Arnaudova, Peter Lukanov, Margarita Gradechlieva, Antonia Dokeva, Boryana Sechanova, Mila Iskrenova and others focused on it. Interpretations of different works were designed as separate ballets or ballet sketches compilations, as for example by Stefan Dragostinov, Rumen Baljozov, Ivan Lechev, Georgi Arnaudov, Assen Avramov, Ivan Spassov, Rumen Toskov, Bozhidar Spassov, Ivan Dimov, Vassil Kazandzhiev, Vladimir Panchev, Dimitar Nenov, Boris Dinev, Ilia Aleksandrov, Lyubomir Denev, Kiril Ilievski, Peter Radevski, etc. Arabesk Ballet and EK Ballet Studio used Bulgarian music the most. During the years efforts were made to find a national dance vocabulary expressing the specificity of the Bulgarian folklore dance and obeying the laws of the ballet art at the same time. This resulted in different combinations between elements of the Bulgarian folklore dance and devices and movements from the means of expression preferred by the choreographer. A synthesis between Bulgarian folklore dance elements and modern dance elements can be detected in the works of Maria Dimova, Teodorina Stoycheva, Margarita Arnaudova, etc.; the Bulgarian folklore dance and the classical dance coexisted in the works of Nina Kiradzhieva, Petar Lukanov, Assen Gavrilov, etc.; a recent combination of Bulgarian folklore dance and eurythmics manifested itself in the performances of Neshka Robeva. The desire to achieve a homogeneous national dance vocabulary remained within the limits of the experiment. It can be observed a certain return to the mystic of the archetypal ancient Bulgarian rituals related more to the expressiveness of the modern dance.
The Bulgarian ballet absorbed gradually the main styles and genre characteristics. Some of them were reflected in the Bulgarian themes repertoire.
In broad terms we can assume with regard to the separate periods that the time from the beginning of the 20th century till the end of the 70-ies was marked by the Bulgarian ballet absorbing elements from the 19th century ballet Romanticism with the genre characteristics of the heroic and comic ballet, of the ballet legends, etc.; with the introducing of unreal unified figures as an attempt to reveal the spiritual world of the characters; and with outlining the main conflict between the reality and the dream, where the dream was doomed to destruction. In the 50-ies the expressiveness of the Romanticism was enriched by the strong influence of the Drambelet, which tried to bring the ballet art closer to the expressiveness of the drama theatre; dance realisations were created after the works of Shakespeare, Pushkin, Lope de Vega, etc.; the interest for the details like gesture, gait and glance increased.
The ballet plots in Bulgaria have been more and more designed in the dance drama style, the dance expression and the tragedy-satire united in the aesthetics of the Dance Theatre. As a matter of fact, some of the dance dramas like “Fire-dancing Woman”, “Kardzhalii” and “Tartars” appeared earlier, but as exceptions. In general, the Bulgarian ballet drew on the Dance Theatre decades after its establishment in Europe. The aesthetics of the expressionistic theatre and of the body language emerged simultaneously with the attempt of the dance to approach the theatre expressiveness, and of the theatre to approach the dance. The theatre of the movement (or the fisical theatre) was aimed at ignoring the messages of the word replacing them with body messages, while at last two main parallel information flows were formed, the one of the word and the other, the real one, of the movements. In Bulgaria the main driving force of such efforts became the acting classes at National Academy of Theatre and Film Arts and New Bulgarian University, and the ballet artists of Arabesk. The experiments of Pantdans theatre and Djun dance company went also in that direction. At the end of the century there were some attempts of creating ballets with Absurd Theatre features, as well as of staging kaleidoscopic ballets connecting the plot and the plotless ballet.
New genre forms appear:
opera-ballet (“Oedipus-tsar” in Varna, “Carmina Burana” in Plovdiv, “The Story of the Soldier” in Russe),
dance impression (often called like this by the choreographers when not possible to define the play in another way)
ballet outdoors (on grass, on the square, etc. as a desire to combine the dance expression with the influence of the environment, a response to the solutions of Isadora Duncan, Mary Wigman, etc.)
ballet-musical (usually playback) unchanged music and plot of a particular musical are used, but the realisation was carried out by dance means of expression: “A West-side Story” and “My Fair Lady” at the State Musical Theatre, “Cabaret” in Pleven, etc.)
rock-ballet (in this case “rock” should refer to the musical means of expression, and not to those of the dance: “Let it Be” and “Encounter of the Worlds” in Russe, “The Angels Through Hell” in Burgass)
jazz-ballet (there were cases, where dance scenes were accompanied by jazz improvisations and the artistic devices were those of the jazz dance: “An Evening with the Jazz Dance” at the State Musical Theatre, etc.)
The biased definitions of “ballet” was abolished. The performances could very often not be specified in terms of genre and aesthetics. They were defined as “dance performances” and included dance, pantomime, video-films, spoken words, voice parts, instrumental improvisations, and all of them had their messages for the viewers. Sometimes the audience became a co-author of the choreographer (the happening).
The development of the Bulgarian ballet was stimulated by the competitions and the festivals:
- the International Ballet Competition, Varna (1964) inspired contemporary solutions also in the repertoire titles;
- the national reviews of opera, ballet and operetta art in Stara Zàgora (70-ies - 90-ies) provided the opportunity for the ballet groups to compare themselves with each other;
- the contemporary choreography competition at Arabesk under the name of Margarita Arnaudova (of 1996) provoked works with Bulgarian themes and by Bulgarian authors;
Even when not that often the visits abroad and the co-productions with Bulgarian participation also contributed to commensurating our artists with the others.
There can be outlined some main tendencies in the development of the Bulgarian ballet during the years:
The repertoire of the Sofia Opera was leading. Usually, ballets of the Sofia Opera were also staged outside the capital, very often by the same choreographers and without editorial changes. Titles realised firstly in the province were seldom invited to the capital repertoire (“Daphnis and Chloe” by Ravel in choreography of Bogdan Kovachev, “The Creation of the World” by Margarita Arnaudova, etc.). Most often these invitations were due to the talent of the choreographer, and not to a considerate and consequent repertory policy of the theatre.
Choreographers and performers, who had studied mainly in Germany and France until the end of World War Two, were gradually replaced by Russian-Soviet trained artists after the second half of the 20th century. This provided unified requirements for the whole image of the ballet groups in the country and generated only limited opportunities for experiments. We can notice a certain repetition of taste types during the years, in parallel to differences in the educational system during the same years. There is a reverse dependency between the proficiency of the ballet education and the variety of the ballet solutions.
The foundation of “Arabesk” (1967) as an experimental ballet studio transformed afterwards into an independent state ballet company provided experimental opportunities not connected with the opera repertoire. Following its example ballet studios were established in Sofia, Plovdiv, Russe, Burgas in the 80-ies, whose production were alternative to those of the opera theatres. Some of them became main promoters of Bulgarian music, very often also in life performances. This tendency increased in the 90-ies.
It seems that the times now are over, when the ballet plots were realised as a literally translation of famous literary originals. During the last years the plots concerned more and more the life experience of the choreographers or were inspired by foreign philosophic ideas and concepts. The narration and the plots were omitted. The ballets turned into a mosaic of many plot lines, which the viewer had to arrange so as to realise the final meaning of the stage performance.
The ballet structures changed too. The pompous multi-act ballets with unfolded dance scenes , Pas d`ensemble, typical for the period from the mid-40-ies till the end of the 70-ies were abandoned. The one-act works were preferred in the 80-ies. The chamber ballet forms based on different miniatures with a common theme prevailed in the 90-ies.
During the last years the choreographers omitted the complicated co-authorship with the composer, but rather selected music written in advance according to their purposes. Whole pieces, works’ fragments of the same composer or works by different composers were often assembled into one performance. In this way the canon of the symphonic development was avoided replaced by a ready thematic material, which would not be furtherly elaborated. The time for setting up the performance was reduced, the integrity of its structure was destroyed. The choreographic material and its amenability to further development were gradually substituted by the presentation of leitmotif dance characteristics fixing the accomplished features of the characters. The aim was to achieve typical and sometimes poster one-sidedness of the figures.
The emotional message of the ballet works was changing from optimism through pessimism to full desperation.
In a sense, the changes in the attitude towards the Bulgarian culture preconditioned some of these tendencies: the number of the ballet performances decreased, as well as the art subsidies, and the value system of society was thrown into confusion. This provided the opportunities for experiments, but diminished the conditions for implementing them.
At the end of the 20th century the ballet art in Bulgaria faces a new challenge. Just like in previous similar situations the choreographers remember antique stories (“Parabola”, “The Birds” “Apropos Medea”, “Searching for Virsavia”) and rethink in a contemporary way old and established ballet works (“The Nutcracker”, “Cinderella”).
The attempts of a new beginning, new themes and means of expression are still in the process of guessing, rather than a deliberate approach. Their efficiency is yet to be realised and assessed.
²V. Operetta and musical in Bulgaria
The basis of the Bulgarian professional operetta theatre was laid down by some theatre-minded enthusiasts supported by private societies at the end of World War One in Sofia. The naivety they approach the popular musical-stage genre flourishing in Europe for years was compensated by their creative ambitions to transfer to the Bulgarian stage the still unknown synthetic art tempting with its entertaining vitality and glitter. Furthermore, the chronological retracing of the historical facts and the accompanying specific events related to the appearance and the initial phase of the professional interpretation of the operetta in Bulgaria (until the beginning of the 30-ies) proved convincingly the consistency of all pioneer efforts to gradually establish the newly founded Bulgarian operetta theatre. The picture of the genre dynamics, as reconstructed exactly according to the concrete repertoire and creative dimensions of the subsequent theatre seasons of the professional operetta groups in the capital, answers the question of how practically speaking the operetta art being unusual for our national tradition and contradictory in its aesthetics functioned, and what the phases of its socialisation on the Bulgarian stage were. The factors predetermining the polysemy of this answer were internal and external, of course. From the external factors the most important one was the particular historical moment of the appearance of the operetta genre in Bulgaria, which coincided with the culmination with the so called Silver Epoch or the New-Vienna operetta style of the history of the European operetta. This very style (a modification of the Verismo in the opera) left its imprint also onto the then emerging model of the Bulgarian professional operetta theatre, with the mastering of the special lines of the genre in its production and performers aesthetics. It was a happy coincidence (as an internal factor) was that the first professional operetta theatre in the capital, Svoboden Teatar (Free Theatre), opened with the most representative, classically perfect New-Vienna title “The Czardas Queen”. Thus the initial phase of the professional interpretation of the operetta art in Bulgaria specified the level of the performers and the production criteria, as well as the taste requirements of the audience. Everything typical for the contemporary New-Vienna genre dramaturgy (intense love-sentimental intrigue with underlined social accent, temperamental comedy-buffo scenes, infecting song-dance hits, dramatic endings of the first two acts and an obligatory final happy end), which was presented to the Bulgarian audience at the first-night of “The Czardas Queen” in December 1918 performed by talented and charming young operetta artists, was warmly met by the truly delighted theatre public. This was the first serious explicit enough victory of the genre and of the newly founded Bulgarian professional operetta theatre on its steep way to be acknowledged as a theatre institution equal to the drama and the opera.
The successes of the new genre theatre, which followed, were due to a great extend to the fact that its repertoire was selected amongst the most popular titles of the poster of the European operetta capitals ( Vienna, Budapest, Paris, London, Petersburg, Berlin, Prague), and with a delay of not more than one season their productions were transferred to the Bulgarian stage. Something unachievable for our contemporary musical theatre! The actuality of its repertoire typical for the Bulgarian operetta theatre during its 30-year-long history (until the theatre became a state property and transferred from an operetta to a musical theatre) was remarkable in the context of our national theatrical culture in the years between the two world wars and placed it in the notable position of a leader in the then contemporary repertoire strategy compared to the more conventional repertoire of the opera and the drama. Despite this prestige tendency the repertoire of the Bulgarian operetta theatre has not maintained the same level in terms of quality and stage design during all seasons. The generalising is based on the full documentary reconstruction of the fist-night performances according to the seasons for each separate operetta company (with their respective costumes and casts), as well as on the many reviews in the periodicals, which bear authentic witness of that time. The differences between the private operetta companies in the capital, founded after the establishment of Svoboden Teater, become clearer when compared chronologically; those companies did not strictly observe the model of institutional structure, the casting and repertoire policy imposed by Svoboden Teater. For example, Renesans (Renaissance) operetta theatre was repertory oriented mainly to musical-comedy productions defining its genre specificity as a buffo-theatre. The first Kooperativen Teater (the co-operative theatre) founded in 1922 (the year, when the capital Operna Druzhba became a state property) was extremely popular as an operetta theatre although it presented besides the excellent classical operetta hits also a great number of modern musical-farcical comedies, vaudevilles and operetta` reviews. The co-operative principle of theatrical organisation and juridical statute proved unambiguously to be more effective than the temporary shareholders’ theatre companies founded quickly as private enterprises with commercial purposes.
The operetta companies in the capital until the beginning of the 30-ies made ambitions efforts to form their own genre profile and they could show high professionalism of the producers (directors, conductors, painters, ballet- and chorus-masters), some of which worked together in permanent creative teams and dedicated their whole careers to the genre. Most important for the success of the performances in the period of establishing the operetta art in Bulgaria was the synchrony between the ideas of the production team director – conductor and the leading role of the director. This was probably due to the fact that then influential artists with a drama training background like P. Ê. Stoychev, Vladimir Ilinski, Krastjo Sarafov, Petko Atanassov, Stoil Stoilov, Yurij Yakovlev, produced operettas and put the emphasis on the acting skills of the performers. At the same time their partners, the conductors Todor Torchanov, Todor Hadzhiev, Boyan Sokolov, Anton Toni, Ilia Stoyanov-Chancheto, Dr. Kosta Todorov, Dobri Christov, etc., were musicians with an outstanding sense for theatre and were concentrating on a strong presentation of the operetta dramaturgy. Still, the theatricality as a universal stage language promoted the visual rather than the auditory aspect in the operetta performances of those years. This was especially the case of artists-directors like Angel Sladkarov (later on Stefan Penchev) with preferences for magnificent stage and costume design, for visual effects of the European reviews and Music Halls. A unifying role for the stage aesthetics of the Bulgarian operetta theatre until the beginning of the 30-ies played the stage-balanced genre production with its authentic luxurious society atmosphere, with its typical behaviour of the entitled operetta characters, with the love conflicts, resulting from social inequality and solved in an unexpected happy twist. This was the basis for the first generation of operetta artists on the Bulgarian musical stage, some highly talented genre performers in all characteristic special lines of the genre.
The development of the Bulgarian operetta logically continued with the next phase, the phase of its mature professional-performance interpretation and creative realisation during the 30-ies and 40-ies, when new qualitative changes were introduced in the dramaturgy of the world genre standards, accompanied by changes in the attitude towards the Bulgarian stage, as well. The creative achievements and innovations during this period levelled the Bulgarian operetta art up the leading New-Vienna style and reached the climax of the social and international acknowledgement of our theatre culture. The 30-ies are known as the golden age of the Bulgarian professional operetta theatre leaving high-ranked examples of a stable national genre theatre to follow, despite its absolute commercialisation and complete lack of interest from the side of the state. In the years between the two world wars the Bulgarian operetta theatre justifiably was proud of the so called golden generation of genre performers, the stars of our operetta stage, who became legends and genre emblems still during their lifetime, i.e. Mimi Balkanska and Assen Ruskov.
Mechanically compared on the principle of the coinciding parameters in the chronology of their procedural development the two periods, the initial one (from the end of the World War One toll the beginning of the 30-ies) and the mature one (from the30-ies till the end of World War Two) followed as a matter of fact the same scheme of a continuous swarming of operetta groups and establishing of more and more new private operetta theatres competing for genre leadership and success. But the creative life and the prestige of each of them turned out to be quite unstable, when relying on accidental repertoire hits and on temporarily engaged or newly discovered talented performers. The experience of the most stabile and lastingly respected by the audience operetta theatres in the capital, Kooperativen Teater, Odeon Theatre and Hudozhestven Opereten Teater (Artistic Operetta Theatre), showed that under the conditions of a free competition the secret of lasting success was in the perfectly organised theatrical work and in the unified artistic concept of genre interpreting. Furthermore, the driving force of its popularisation was different at any particular moment; while in the initial phase the attention was drawn to the curiosity towards the unusual for our theatre tradition operetta theatre and its specific repertoire, in its mature phase not the theatre itself provoked the interest of the audience and the critics, but the production aesthetics and the professional skills of the performers. This defined the different attitude towards the specific entertainment essence of the operetta art, towards the influence of a concrete performance, irrespective of it being a completely new title or a traditional repertoire classical piece. In this sense, the performances of the most prestigious for the period between the two world wars Kooperativen Teater, successfully governed in the course of more than 15 seasons by the Vienna trained director Stoil Stoilov, were an academic certificate for its performing staff, as well. The performances of Odeon theatre have always been on the crest of the hit wave sealed with the “Penchev” stamp guaranteeing a cash success. The ideological concept of Hudozhestven Opereten Teater of an elite genre aesthetics prioritising the classic and the large operetta form found an adequate expression in the productions the artist Georgi Stamatov and very much so in the performances of the prominent opera producer Hristo (Hitjo) Popov. The genre could endure some more radical theatrical experiments, such as the avant-garde polemic Brecht’s aesthetics in the first Bulgarian production of his “Three Penny Opera”, a debut of Nikolay Fol as director at the P. K. Stoychev theatre, or the opposite to the alienation effect, the review-show in the style of the Paris music-hall Les Folies Bergeres, persistently introduced by the founder of the Bulgarian operetta art Angel Sladkarov at the A. Sladkarov theatre and the Bulgaria operetta theatre.
During the two world wars, despite the different genre directions and the specific profiles of the separate groups the Bulgarian operetta theatre as a whole was a theatre of erudite producers (directors and conductors) with ceaseless creative energy able to involve in their word talented authors (librettists and musicians) for the composing of the Bulgarian operetta repertoire according to the leading genre taste and the specific skills of the particular operetta group. Simultaneously, this was a theatre of star performers, who managed to raise its prestige to the level of a national genre theatre competing with the famous European operetta theatres of the renowned hit epoch.
The Bulgarian operetta theatre changed entirely its institutional and aesthetic image with the social-political changes in Bulgaria after the end of World War Two. The consolidation of the operetta artists and producers in the capital carried out under the auspices of the Hudozhestven Opereten Teater (1946) and its subsequent renaming into Narodna Opereta (People’s Operetta) (1947) practically prepared the new type of structuring the theatre as a state institution officially regulated and legalised by a governmental decree (1948). The state musical theatre remained the only one genre-profiled theatre of the popular musical-stage art and a direct successor of the traditions of the previous period of the private operetta theatres. Weather this theatre truly preserved or deviated from those traditions and followed the new world genre tendencies was reflected in the repertoire titles even when analysed separately from their respective stage realisations. Their even relative periodisation after decades (during the already 55 year history of the theatre) corresponded to the phase changes in its organisational-governing scheme and executive staff, which in its turn defined the repertoire concepts and the aesthetic hierarchies in those concepts for each concrete time period modelling in a specific way the creative physiognomy of the theatre itself during the past seasons. So, if the 50-ies were the time of the historically explainable ideological rethinking of the genre and especially of the classical operettas (influenced by the Soviet genre samples), as well as the time of laying down the basis of the national operetta dramaturgy, then the 60-ies and mainly the 70-ies marked the establishment of the new genre achievement of the Bulgarian music, the musical. The State Musical Theatre of the 80-ies tried to bring its performances in line with the modern repertoire poly-stylistics of the European musical theatre, and the last decade of the century was full of contradictory and non-stable creative intentions, a natural reflection of the new governmental-political and social-economic perturbations. After a serious artistic crisis in the mid- 90-ies the visible stabilisation of the theatre at the end of the decade and the beginning of the new millennium began with a kind of a creative retrospection of some of its best traditions in the large form of the classical operetta and the musical, as well as with the development of an independent impresario activity in parallel with the ambition of its last artistic leadership to shorten the repertory-aesthetic distance between the modern European (respectively world) popular musical-stage productions and the latest genre productions of the State Musical Theatre. In general, the experience gained by its regular staff with the state financing and the dependency on administrative-governmental decisions and doctrines did not differ from the general characteristics typical for our national culture of that time, which in no way undervalue the genre successes in Bulgaria and abroad during the decades. Still, the most significant performers and artistic contribution on its stage has so far remained the national genre dramaturgy and the professional mastering and interpretation of the musical.
The fact that some genre titles of the repertoire of the State Musical Theatre have been repeatedly reproduced also on the stages of the state opera and of the semi-professional regional operetta or musical theatres in the country proved the traditional nation-wide socialisation of the genre and its definite commercial advantages, i.e. the theatres staged operettas very often because of financial reasons. Nevertheless, the constant interest of the audience in classical operettas and musicals clearly showed that the popular musical-stage art took a large spiritual space in our cultural reality. Not accidentally, in the beginning of the 70-ies there was an attempt of founding the second genre stage (a filial of the state Musical Theatre), the Dramatic-Musical Theatre in Veliko Tarnovo, achieving considerable success during the first decades of its existence. But the problem of its further successful development was not the insufficient financing from the municipality, but the necessity of a talented, strong and ambitious personality to lead it ( a similar problem faced by many regional genre theatres staging some of the best performances from the mid-60-ies till the mid-80-ies). The practical experience showed that such a personality would ensure the positive development of the theatre, but if there was no such a person the number of performances and their artistic quality would decrease. Of course, when compared with the performances of the State Musical Theatre, the aesthetic value of the genre performances at the non-capital theatres was much lower (in many cases these performances were realised by producers and soloists from the theatre in the capital). But this could not serve as a criterion neither for their contribution to the regional cultural life, nor for the social attitude towards the genre at that time. The contemporary Bulgarian musical theatre, contrary to the private operetta theatre in the period between the two world wars, is obviously varied with more interpretation possibilities and stage incorporation in other related forms of popular entertainment. A witness hereto bears the volume of the performances of the so called theatrical musical, a certain genre modification of the musical comedy, satire or grotesque with a song musical stylistics, which takes a permanent place at drama theatres in the capital with an independent regular orchestra and conductor-composer, such as the State Satirical Theatre and the Youth Theatre. Precisely their stages were architecturally designed with a special place for the orchestra (like in the traditional musical theatres) and consequently were intended for life performances of musical comedies, vaudevilles, reviews, musicals, and other similar style varieties of the contemporary musical theatre cultivating at the same time genre performers and creating lasting repertoire contacts with Bulgarian composers.