A “Touch” to the Manuscripts, Old Printed Books, Rare and Valuable Editions collection and to publications about the first opera performances in Pleven


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The Manuscripts, Old Printed Books, Rare and Valuable Editions collection is part of the structured collections of the Library at the Saglasie 1869 Community Centre – Pleven. The samples are stored in peculiar safes at a certain temperature, deployed with special gloves so that the integrity of the manuscripts and editions is preserved for as long as possible. The collection comprises 1,155 library units, including 21 manuscripts, 1,092 books and periodicals in Bulgarian (out of print by 1878 inclusive) and 42 printed books in other languages (published also by 1878 inclusive)[2]. The manuscripts are divided into two groups – created before the 19th century (five) and created during the 19th century (sixteen)[3]. Some of them are accompanied by beautiful drawings and ornaments.

On the spot in the library, I saw a Gospel from the 13th century, part of the Gospel of John. Two sheets of it have been preserved. There are traces of darkening or scorching on them – it is possible that the rest has not been preserved due to fire (I have not found any confirmation of such an assumption). Yurdan Tsvetkov from the town of Pleven donated the sheets of paper in 1892. It is also the earliest manuscript kept in that library, and one of two manuscripts on parchment.

Among the old-printed editions, I was impressed by the book Description of the Holy City of Jerusalem (published in Vienna in 1865) and by the fact that it was donated by Vasil Levski himself to a Pleven citizen, in whose home the Deacon stayed before the Liberation. The book is written in black handwritten letters: “Belonging to Mihail A. Popov, it was given to him by the Bulgarian hero Vasil Levski, born in the town of Karlovo. Pleven. August 15, 1884”. The inscription is from 1884 (when Popov probably donated the edition to the library), and Levski himself donated the book in 1871. According to Manyo Stoyanov, this sample stores “the first and only message that Levski collected and owned books”[4].

In search of documents for the earliest opera performances in the town of Pleven, I had the opportunity to work for months with another collection – “Pleven Periodical Printing 1878–1944”. Looking at all the preserved issues of the Plevenski Glas [Pleven Voice] newspaper (from 1896, 1897, 1898, 1899–1900, 1900, 1901 and 1904–1905), I managed to find two publications related to the first performances of whole operas (in arrangements) in the town. I also clarified the date of the first ever opera performance in Pleven: on May 13, 1897, the travelling company of Enrico Massini presented the opera Ernani by Giuseppe Verdi composed of soloists, choir, and instrumental ensemble (by three violinists and one pianist) in the hall of the Saglasie Community Centre[5]. Thanks to an extensive review signed by “Mr. Pr.”, published on May 17, 1897, and on an announcement published on May 10, 1897, it was confirmed that Massini’s travelling troupe had performed in Pleven more than one opera, including Verdi’s La Traviata, Charles Gounod’s Faust, and others[6]. Examining the review, I hypothesized the approximate number of opera choirs, some of the performed opera roles by the most prominent soloists of the troupe, etc. One of the most valuable opportunities was that thanks to the review, I restored Enrico Massini’s place in the troupe during this tour (since 1897), when he appeared not only as a director, but also as a soloist baritone, performing roles as main characters in opera works presented in the city. Having studied the review, I came to the conclusion that the author (Mr. Pr.) demonstrates in-depth musical knowledge, including on the operatic scores of the analysed works, as well as free handling of musical terminology written in different languages – Bulgarian, Italian, Latin, French. This publication undoubtedly proves that in Pleven in 1897 there was a musician at a high enough level to critically evaluate opera performances. (For detailed analyses of the review and the opera works presented in Pleven in the 19th century, see the studios: “First opera performances in Pleven and their reception”[7].)

Such studies, conclusions, hypotheses, carried out from the distance of time – in this case 126 years after the first performances of entire operas in Pleven, are possible thanks to the activities of musicians, publishers, and others who have worked in Pleven, as well as the dedicated work of the founders of the library and all dedicated librarians, members of the community centre, donors who have taken as their personal cause the preservation of testimonies of the cultural and historical heritage of Pleven and the region[8]. In addition, today the library team is looking for various opportunities to enrich and promote valuable collections. Various exhibitions, demonstrations, talks, publications in scientific and popular publications, in print and electronic media are held. Projects are being developed to ensure that library collections reach future generations. On this basis, both researchers from different fields and citizens with interests in the development of Pleven and the region in different years, it is possible to conduct research, expand their knowledge, ‘touch’ samples of our national cultural heritage.


[1] M. Tzenova is an Associate Professor, PhD at the Institute of Art Studies – BAS, Music Sector.

[2] See Ivanova, L. The “Manuscripts, Old Printed Books, Rare and Valuable Publications collection in the library of Saglasie 1869 Community Centre – a light from the past. – In: 150 years Saglasie 1869 Community Centre – Pleven. Anniversary collection. S. Denchev and Ts. Pancheva (scientific reviewers), M. Mladenova (scientific consultant). Pleven: Saglasie 1869 Community Centre – Pleven, 2019, 193-221.

[3] See Ivanova, L. The Collection…, 211-213.

[4] Stoyanov, M. Bulgarian Revival Literature: Analytical repertoire of Bulgarian books and periodicals 1806–1878. Vol. 1. Sofia: Science and Art, 1957, quoted from: Ivanova, L. The collection…, 201-202, 216-217.

[5] See Mr. Pr. Italian Opera Company. – In: Georgiev, M. G. (Rev.). Plevenski Glas, IV, № 18, 17.05.1897, 2-3; Tzenova, M. First opera performances in Pleven in the 19th century and their reception. – In: Bulgarian Musicology, 2023, No. 2, 3-35. Sofia: Institute of Art Studies, BAS.

[6] Mr. Pr. Italian…; We learn that the Italian opera company of Massini and Capeleti will visit our city during the next Sunday (…). – In: Plevenski Glas. M. G. Georgiev (ed.). IV, No. 17, 10.05.1897, 2; see also Stefanov, K. and S. Spirov. Pleven Saglasie Community Centre up to September 9, 1944. – In: One Hundred Years of G. Dimitrov People’s Community Centre. Anniversary collection. L. Dunchev (pres. of the Editorial Board), A. Markov, N. Kostadinov, N. Boshnakov (ed.). Sofia: Ed. of the Otechestven Front, 1969, 11-35; Tzenova, M. First opera performances…

[7] Tzenova, M. First opera performances… See also Tzenova, M. Katya Popova and the Opera Traditions in Pleven. On materials from the Pleven periodical press and archival documents. – In: Museums and Cultural Heritage – Historical and Modern Dimensions (120 years since the beginning of museum work in the town of Pleven), Pleven: Regional History Museum – Pleven, printing pending.

[8] See also: State Archive – Pleven, f. 568k, op. 1, a. e. 6-8.

A “Touch” to the Manuscripts, Old Printed Books, Rare and Valuable Editions collection and to publications about the first opera performances in Pleven

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