Sofia Opera House’s Tosca starring Alexandrina Pendatchanska and Kamen Chanev


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Based on Victorien Sardou’s 1887 French-language dramatic play, La Tosca, the opera Tosca by Giacomo Puccini pictures the political strife between the Royalists and Republicans, affecting the life of painter Cavaradossi and diva Floria Tosca.[1] The very idea the title role of an operatic diva to be performed by an operatic diva is not that easy to bring to life, as it seems on the face of it. It is worthy of reminding that three of the six of the most celebrated singers of Tosca were Bulgarians: Raina Kabaivanska, Ghena Dimitrova, Anna Tomowa-Sintow.


Here is how Raina Kabaivanska saw her role as cited by Rozalia Bix: ‘Everything in this woman should be ‘a notch above’ the usual and the expected, and strewn with all possible nuances of her character too. Because Floria Tosca is a woman, of course, but she is first of all a diva, i.e. life to her is and will always be a stage. Tosca’s role has an aposematic coloration, making her conspicuous from everywhere. And it is this ‘a notch above’ that poses the biggest challenge of taste and aesthetic sense to a singer. How much ‘above’ and where should it tell not in general, but in this particular character?[2]


I am not sure that these words have led Alexandrina Pendatchanska in her concept of this role. In an interview for the Bulgarian National Radio, she said that in her childhood she witnessed her mother’s detailed work on this role with conductor Mihail Angelov. It was he who inspired her to include Tosca in her repertoire. And it was Sofia Opera House’s production she opted for to appear as Floria Tosca for the first time.

Music lovers were eagerly looking forward to her debut as Tosca. Her vocal teacher was her mother, the internationally acclaimed soprano Valerie Popova; at the age of 19 she won the Antonín Dvořák Singing Competition, the International Vocal Competition in Bilbao and the UNISA singing competition in Pretoria. Her vast vocal range brought her to a repertoire including more than 60 roles, from early to contemporary music. She has appeared on the stages of Berlin Staatsoper Theater an der Wien, Vienna Staatsoper, Toronto, Theater an der Wien, Santa Fe, Tokyo, Bolshoi, etc., collaborating with many directors under the baton of such conductors as Riccardo Chailly, Charles Dutoit, Ádám Fischer, René Jacobs, Vladimir Jurowski among many others.

The spectators who packed Sofia Opera House to capacity didn’t feel chagrined. Her performance exuded confidence, her play was convincing, without overdoing her part. Her gesticulation and the wealth of her byplay were precisely measured and relevant to the storm of Tosca’s wide gamut of feelings. Especially capturing was the last scene between Tosca and Scarpia. With well measured uncertainty Pendatchanska’s Tosca groped for the knife on the table to stab the Baron in the chest without thinking twice, when the latter was behind her. Then she hurriedly and chaotically rummaged the room for Scarpia’s letter, feverishly running away.


Alexandrina Pendatchanska’s vocal presence was impressive too. Her detailed wok on each tone in an attempt to find the best nuances did tell. An especially striking moment was her performance of the aria ‘Vissi d’arte’ (I lived for art) in Act 2. She began with a barely audible pianissimo to give free rein in the second part both to her singing and emotions, conveying шгеп to the audience, to end in a soft‘Why?’, receiving lengthy and well deserved applause.

Kamen Chanev[3] and Pendatchanska ideally matched in Tosca. He is a more frequent guest soloist at Sofia Opera House. Artistically, I was impressed by how convincingly Chanev interacted with all his partners on the stage, especially in Act 2. In the beginning, when Scarpia questioned him, his barely veiled self-restraint was discernible culminating in the aria following the cry ‘Vittoria!’.

In Act 3 Chanev, building his character, also stroke the right note in several instances. First of all it was the aria-lament. He demonstrated how nuanced may a singer’s voice sound in the higher range. His emotions in the aria evolved from hidden sadness to deep anguish to gave place to bright tones, crystal sound and optimistic brilliance of his vocal range with Tosca’s appearance.

In their scenes together, Chanev and Pendatchanska made a formidable duet, vocally and artistically, working out every detail of the mise-en-scènes: the couple was excellently prepared for the performance.

Biser Georgiev as Baron Scarpia, the malevolent Chief of Police, equalled guest soloists’ excellence in performance and stage presence. He was a cool-headed investigator in Act 1, when he questions Tosca about whether or not she knows something about Angelotti, lusting after her, trying with increasing bitterness to find a way to her heart using promises and extortion. It costs him his life.


The exclusive participation of the two celebrities lent wings to Peter Buchkov (Angelotti), Ilia Iliev (the Sacristan), Nikolay Pavlov (Spoletta), Alexander Georgiev (Sciarrone), Dimiter Stanchev (the Jailer) and Joanna Kouleva (the Shepherd Boy), who made their best to equal the world class of the soloists.

Unfortunately, the same does not hold true for the performance of the Chorus of Sofia Boys. They acted very well in the scene with the Sacristan, but it was impossible to hear what they sang.

Plamen Kartaloff’s rendition of Tosca excels in detailed work on the mise-en-scènes, where musical dramaturgy is the leading principle. An enormous cross and its projection onto the stage occupy the central place in the solution to the set design. It serves as a wall of the Church of. Sant’ Andrea della Valle, where Cavaradossi paints. The cross acts as the ceiling of Scarpia’s apartments in the Palazzo Farnese. In the end it becomes the battlements of the Castel Sant’Angelo, from where Tosca throws herself into the Tiber. Such an ambiguous symbolism in playing with the set is no novelty for Acad. Plamen Kartaloff’s stagings. This time again it produces a profound effect. The proscenium is used for the supporting cast: police officers who are after Angelotti; the procession leading Cavaradossi to his execution; Scarpia’s henchmen, chasing Tosca in the end of Act 3.

The orchestra of Sofia Opera House under the baton of Grigor Palikarov was accompanying with precision and relevant dynamic power. Music lovers shall forever remember the pianissimo of Tosca’s aria in Act 2. Palikarov did his best for the emotional charge of the orchestra to correspond to that of the singers. I think that this production may well be deemed to be a showpiece for a precise accompaniment.

May this production and Pendatchanska’s first taking on the title role add yet another star role to her repertoire and have many performances of Tosca across the world!

[1] Puccini wrote to his publisher: ‘I see in this Tosca the opera I need, with no overblown proportions, no elaborate spectacle, nor will it call for the usual excessive amount of music’.

[2] Bix, Rozalia, Anelia Yaneva, Rumiana Karakostova, Miglena Tzenova-Nusheva, Emilia Zhunich. Bulgarian Musical Theatre. Operas, ballets, operettas, musicals 1890–2010. Reviews. Critical articles. Comments. S., Gaia Libris, 2015, p. 87

[3] Kamen Chanev studied singing at the National Academy of Music, Sofia and subsequently at the Accademia Musicale in Rome. He debuted at Vienna Staatsoper with Des Grieux in Puccini’s Manon Lescaut. He performs regularly at Rome, Berlin, Munich, Montreal, Washington, Bolshoi, etc., under the baton of such internationally acclaimed conductors as Riccardo Muti, Lorin Maazel, Jurowski among many others. He performs the main tenor roles in operas by Verdi, Puccini, Bizet, Mozart.

Sofia Opera House’s Tosca starring Alexandrina Pendatchanska and Kamen Chanev

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