The children’s Margaritki Opera and Ballet Studio, Stara Zagora Opera House, showed in Sofia the musical A Summer in a Swamp. Biologists Nia Toshkova and Violeta Zhelyazkova, Institute of Biodiversity and Ecosystem Research, BAS, are behind the idea of the production seeking to focus the attention on one of Bulgaria’s natural sights, the Chokliovo Swamp within the Baikal Nature Reserve near the city of Radomir.
The story unfolds during the summer holidays spent by two girls in the village of Baikal, located near the Chokliovo Swamp. Willing to become biologists and fascinated by nature, the two would come again and again back to the wetland to take pictures. The kids share with the spectators their impressions of the diversity of the natural world inhabiting the Chokliovo Swamp. Then a prosperous developer visits the village planning to drain the swamp to build a hotel in its stead. The two girls meet his son, who comes with his father and the workers to see the future construction site. The boy complains of mosquito bites all the time and boasts his father’s clout, unaware of the rich diversity of fauna and flora the place is blessed with. To bring him to reason, a Fairy comes along and turns him into a bat that has to prevent his father from constructing to be turned back into a human. As a bat, he gets acquainted with the inhabitants of the swamp and is fond of their life. When excavators arrive, a tornado forms and strikes out of the blue: the boy-turned-bat’s trick to stop the machines. The swamp is rescued and the bat is turned back into a boy.
The production impresses with its topical message and good children’s performance. The coaches of Margaritki (Daisies) Opera and Ballet Studio should be commended for their motivation and their work with these gifted kids. The efforts of the staging team were crowned by a strictly built and smoothly flowing performance. The young performers show keen desire and love for playing.
Traditionally, apart from speech, the musical includes a lot of dancing and singing, but also the use of multimedia. As early as the opening scene, the animals inhabiting the wetland are shown on a screen while the two girls are telling the stories of the Red Data Book species in Bulgaria. Simultaneously, children playing the roles of the same animals are dancing and singing onstage.
Congratulations for Radost Mladenova-Arabagjieva, the musical’s director and choreographer and leader of the Ballet School of the Studio, for her work with the children of various ages and different actorly tasks. The dances were impeccably synchronised. The choreographer has succeeded in rendering the inhabitants of the swamp varying plasticity and dance characteristics. She has done good work impressing with the well-used stage space in the dances. I’d, however, strongly advise elaborating more precisely the links between the mise-en-scène and the action, but then again, it rather can be blamed on the director.
Some of the directorial faults stem from Maya Dulgucheva’s libretto. There are some undeveloped subplots. The boy-turned-bat says he is enraptured by the enamoured couple of egrets and wants to tell one of the two girls the same words, but it is unclear to whom of them and he never utters the words. One of the turtles in the swamp proves to be his pet. Still, the duet between the wild creature and the pet turtle is very well structured, but the idea has not been further developed as a subplot. The climactic scene of the performance, the hitting tornado could be treated with more imagination and using multimedia to create the feeling of a real vortex.
Denis Ivanov, assistant director at Stara Zagora Opera House has designed the costumes of the animals tastefully and the general colour of the set design is blue, reminiscent of water. An important element is the elevation upon which the Fairy of the Night appears onstage (an association perhaps with Mozart’s The Queen of the Night).
The music by Margarita Shoselova and Nikolay Tsolov is structured around the numbers and each melodious number can be performed independently. Margarita Shoselova, the author of the songs, deserves praise for the diversity of the musical characteristics of the animals, while the protagonists, the two girls and the boy, have been robbed of musical individuality. The solo performance of the boy is just one lullaby completely irrelevant to his character. The arrangements of the songs by Nikolay Tsolov are richly and variedly orchestrated. He has also composed the instrumental music, which is accompanying some of the dances and most of the speaking episodes.
Praiseworthy is also the work done by vocal teacher Zornitsa Zheliazkova: the natural voice placement should be added to the children’s pure intoning. The contribution by the teacher in acting technique, Denitsa Yanakieva is also evident. The studio recordings were made by Yovko Yovchev and multimedia by Nikolay Stoianov and Plamen Asenov.
The adult performers from Stara Zagora Opera House harmoniously fit in the production. Though playing episodic characters, they help the children cope with their tasks.
In the end I’d congratulate the entire team of the children’s Margaritki Opera and Ballet Studio, Stara Zagora Opera House. Building the action of a plot in its entirety, which is performed by children too, has been a tricky task for the entire creative team. Familiarising with musical theatre genres has an effect on children’s musical education, especially when kids are not just spectators, but also performers. This is the way to bring them closer to music and the stage, shaping a taste and standards for musical stagings.
May the children and their teachers from Margaritki Opera and Ballet Studio, Stara Zagora Opera House meet many various challenges, venturing also to stage Bulgarian and foreign musical showpieces, building a repertoire that would enrich not only the young performers, but also their teachers.