Maestro Plamen Kartaloff:
We strive for one thing only - perfection
Bulgarian opera singers are performers of exceptional talent
1 July, 2017Close-up: Maestro Plamen Kartaloff is an esteemed opera director. Born on 15 September 1948 in Dobrich, he is a graduate of the National Academy of Music in Sofia. He has specialised opera directing in Germany and film directing at the National Academy for Theatre and Film Arts in Bulgaria. His production of Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen in Sofia, which had great success not only in Bulgaria but in Germany too, was the Balkan debut of the great cycle of four music dramas. Opera fans are now eagerly awaiting maestro Kartaloff’s next production of Richard Wagner’s opera Parsifal, which is set to premiere on 4 July.
- Maestro Kartaloff, the premiere of your production of Wagner’s opera Parsifal is coming soon. What is the atmosphere in the cast’s last rehearsals?
- Anyone gifted with the awareness and ability to see everything happening in this theatre of majestic shows over the past two months would attribute the observed productive activity here to a sacred atmosphere that has naturally enveloped everyone and everything. These words of Richard Wagner regarding the atmosphere during rehearsals for the debut of the mystery Parsifal in Bayreuth are an apt parallel of what is taking place in the Sofia Opera now. The team’s striving for perfection has been the driving force. The inspired work put in by each and every artist, orchestra member, choir singer, set worker, administrative employee and assistant, craftsman in the costume design and sets departments, everyone involved in all musical, stage and technical parts of the process, shows a dedication to the highest goal - immersing in a creative process guided by experienced professionals in the sixth production of a Wagner piece at national opera theatre in the last seven seasons. This is a truly revolutionary example in Bulgarian art. There is no greater evidence of Bulgaria national opera theatre’s devotion to the cause of delivering social, cultural and economic benefits! Richard Wagner’s last opera is a revolutionary work, a source of spiritual strength and beauty. It reminds us that whenever people have mission and inspiration, bestowed upon them by a higher power, they can tap into the same kind of religious purification, dedication and redemption as Parsifal. This is the ability to serve with pure soul.
- Is this what makes this work so special and mysterious?
- Parsifal personifies a spiritual community in which the ideas of brotherhood, humility and love for others are intertwined with the divine light and spiritual healing. This should be our connection with the spiritual world of Wagner’s sacred mystery Parsifal, where music exalts the senses of everyone open to surrendering to the temple of the soul.
- In your opinion, why has the opera never been put on in Bulgaria before?
- Because of a limited cultural horizon and therefore taste for art in the grand scheme of the world’s enormous musical treasure trove. It is easier and safer to walk the well-travelled road of the popular and rather cliched at this point repertoire. Our opera singers are performers of exceptional talent. In the zenith of their career they add Wagner to their resume, which is a stepping stone not only towards a new tradition in the Sofia Opera on an international level, but towards new heights in their professional growth, giving them validation as contributors to one of the greatest vocal achievements within Wagner’s music world. This is the kind of artists we have in the Sofia Opera.
- What distinguishes your work on Parsifal as a director? Were there any curious moments, worthy of being included in the stage history of this particular opera?
- It is the relentless pursuit of perfecting every detail. The cast is faced with daunting tasks. The second act, set in the castle of the magician Klingsor and its wondrous garden with seductive Flowermaidens, for example, is performed on a giant 100m2 inflatable pillow. It is an unorthodox set where the cast members swim, dance, perform and most importantly sing pitch perfect. They look like acrobats out there. The dramatic tension in those scenes is palpable and we show something completely new in interpreting Parsifal. Wagner connoisseurs will notice many novel elements in the director’s take of this particular work. We did some truly inspired work with the set designer Sven Jonke and the costume designer Stanka Vauda.
- Your productions of the Wagner cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen have turned Sofia into a European capital of opera art. Should we expect them to be a highlight in Bulgarian cultural tourism once again?
- Der Ring des Nibelungen is planned to return on stage in Sofia in July 2018. This will be the sixth show following our tour in Germany. What a creatively daring thing it was for us to present our take on the cycle with an entirely new stage version in terms of interpretation and realisation in the composer’s native country! This was unprecedented - foreigners playing the vaunted cycle in Germany. But the Bulgarian artists, who sang in impeccable German, dazzled not only the German audience. Wagner fans from the US, Australia, the UK, Norway, South Africa and many other countries flocked to see our shows. We expect many visitors from abroad for the upcoming dates as well. To me, however, introducing new Bulgarian fans to the world of Wagner is an even higher goal so we can see our efforts towards educating the opera audience bear fruit. Following Bulgaria and Germany, our production of Der Ring des Nibelungen will appear on the historic stage of the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow in May 2018.
- Are there any lingering concerns about opera being a dying art or is it actually attracting a growing number of followers, becoming a trendy source of entertainment?
- Every opera administration aspires to attract a larger audience. Life is so dynamic nowadays thanks to modern technologies. So we are open to exploring alternative stage environments in a bid to draw regular fans and new ones alike. The Sofia Opera has been successful in this. And yet we are not choosing the path of least resistance. Popular or more obscure works, we always hold ourselves to the highest standards so that the audience can get the best product. Thus, interest in the opera theatre is guaranteed to never wane.
- From the outset of your term as head of the Sofia Opera you identified the individual approach to viewers as a priority. How do you “woe” viewers?
- It is clear to see. The Sofia Opera is attended by people of all ages. We have three stages that are always busy. We have a long-term view of the programme.
- Opera is an expensive art form. How do you manage to create these fabulous and glittering productions in a time when almost all other sectors are in a crisis?
- It is all about very hard work, professionalism, responsibility and devotion to the craft.