The company of Sofia Opera House has enjoyed over the recent decade an enviable new crop of soloists and additions to the repertoire of less staged works. Following the productions of the Ring Cycle and Tristan and Isolde1, Parsifal is the sixth of the Wagnerian productions in Sofia, all of them staged with a titanic power in an unusual directorial rendition by Plamen Kartaloff, Director of Sofia Opera House
Parsifal, which the author called a ‘a stage mystery’, was Wagner’s last work, referring to religious symbols and rituals. Parsifal’s appeaing in Act 3 after years of wandering is reminiscent of the story of Jesus Christ’s 40 days in the wilderness as a preparation for His Coming. This symbolism is underscored also in the director’s rendition: Parsifal is carrying a spear over his shoulder like Christ walked on his way to Golgotha with the Cross on his shoulders. In Act 3, Kundry bathes Parsifal’s feet, drying them with her hair echoing Mary Magdalene, while Gurnemanz sprinkles Parsifal’s head with water from the Holy Spring as John the Baptist baptised Jesus. Very much like Mary Magdalene received by Christ’s redeeming forgiveness, Parsifal absolves Kundry of her sins against the knights.
A major achievement of the production is the typical of Kartaloff’s manner visualisation of music. The performance is skilfully dynamised both due to the attractive sets, viewed at another angle with each scene change and to the active stage presence of the performers (a predominantly younger cast) and full use of the stage mechanisms adding the necessary variety even to the most static moments.
Kartaloff uses the set design and costumes to set the characters in a timelessness: they in fact do not belong to any certain historical period, and such a directorial rendition leaves it to the audiences to complete the picture as they like it.
The moment when Klingsor hurls the holy spear at Parsifal in an attempt to injure him was very interesting to me. The spotlight was switched of and when it was turned on we saw the protagonist already seizing it. Such effects are working in tune with the rest of the directorial allusions. Working is also the use of laser beams in the finale of Act 3, the culmination of the performance. The team of light designer Andrej Hajdinjak and director Acad. Plamen Kartaloff are working hardly to this end. Using visible effects, they get audiences accustomed to music not that popular in this country.
The set and costume designers have also searched for symbols in the colour solutions. Acts 1 and 3 are dominated by white both in the sets and costumes (Numen and Ivana Jonke; Stanka Vauda), to suggest spiritual purity In Act 2, red is chosen for Parsifal’s seduction. Throughout the act, the action is unfolding on a red cushion and the colour would more often than not be associated with passion and sex (the Fall of man). Symbolism in Act 3 is achieved using costumes: the protagonist appears clad in black, but Gurnemanz dons him in a white robe; Parsifal is made King of the Knights by Gurnemanz, who wears a white robe.
I think that this is the one opera of all Wagnerian works produced in Bulgaria, that calls for an active acting presence and this is precisely what the performers do. Kostadin Andreev builds the title role in depth not only vocally, but also as a stage presence. He is especially impressive in Act 2, when he yields not to the seducers. In Act 3, he owes much of his mastery to his stage presence and enlightenment, when he already feels himself worthy of lining up with the knights of the Grail.
Gergana Rusekova as Kundry is different in the different stages of the opera: featured as a lunatic in Act 1; seductive (but measuredly) in Act 2; speechless, lucid and at peace with herself in Act 3. The singer shows the different sides to her character not only by her singing presence, but also in her acting.
Angel Hristov as Gurnemanz though on the face of it inherently wise, is the one that gives the story an impetus, rather than just introducing into it, by sending Parsifal away at the end of Act 1 and accompanying him once again to the castle of the Holy Grail at the finale of Act 3.
Sofia Opera House orchestra, led by Ira Levin, revealed nuances rendering the Wagnerian score quite multilayered and visible, making it possible for the audiences to relish its emotional, aesthetical and timbral fineness.
Sofia Opera chorus, excellently coached by chorus master Violeta Dimitrova, was very impressive as a composite character of the knights of the Grail. The plasticity of the members was conducive to their convincing stage presence.
During the 127th year of opera in this country, an exciting season programme of Sofia Opera House is in store for. Following the success of the Ring Cycle in Füssen, Germany featuring Bulgarian singers, the Ring is to be performed at Moscow’s Bolshoi Theatre in May 2018. It is worth mentioning that Wagner’s epic masterpiece has not been presented in its entirety on Bolshoi’s stage for over a century now.
Two Bulgarian premieres of emblematic Bulgarian works, Marin Goleminov’s dance drama Priestess of Fire and Lubomir Pipkov’s opera Yana’s Nine Brothers are on the bill, to have their world premieres in Moscow.
A world premiere of Bizet’s opera Carmen is scheduled for the company’s regular tour of Japan (in autumn 2018); the Bulgarian premiere is slated for 3 November 2017.
Le Corsaire (premiered on 23 November 2017) was the first ever production of the ballet at Sofia Opera House.
Generally, the company of Sofia Opera and Ballet enjoys many new productions, deservedly piquing audiences’ interest. A successful season lays in store for us!
1 The production of Tristan and Isolde was also critically acclaimed in Ljubljana, Slovenia.