Two very different nights at the Opera Philharmonic Hall.
Our partner in Plovdiv, the Academy of Music, Dance and Fine Arts was celebrating its 45-year anniversary. At 6 O Clock on October 29th, we all went to the Opera Philharmonic Hall to attend to the concert. A hall filled with families and young people present to listen to their friends and teachers. After the national hymn, speeches and many thanks to the Academy’s partners, the evening started. Historically, the Academy was first a music school, hence the importance of music in this celebration. The director of the Academy reminded to the audience of the great reputation of the academy in Bulgaria as well as in Europe. In fact, many students come from abroad to study in this institution.
One major fact, which we discovered during the concert and which was at first surprising for us was the importance of the folk music and dance in the studies. 80% of the students are mainly here to learn more about the traditional dances and musical heritage of Bulgaria. This is one of the reasons why the first part of the concert, which focused on contemporary music was a little disappointing compared to the second, which offered a beautiful and colourful painting of traditional Bulgarian music.
Many students played traditional instruments such as the gaida – a goat-skin bagpipe – the gadulka – a bowed string instrument held vertically – or the tupan – a large frame drum. The well known voices of Bulgaria were also impressive and the women’s choir all dressed in traditional costumes was very touching. A soprano singer with a nasal voice pierced through the rest of the choir giving a mysterious sound from far away lands.
The search for a national identity of a young independent nation has been manifesting itself in the resurgence of traditional and folk music and dance. The importance of it in the academic studies is a result of it. It was growing during the soviet period and the administration let it because it was considered less subversive and dangerous than contemporary music. For western eyes, it is strange to see the keen interest of young people for such traditions, but we can only witness it with respect and curiosity.
The day after that, we came back for another concert in the same hall. We were going back on our own turf so to speak. The concert was The Elixir of Love by Gaetano Donizetti, a hit Italian opera which most of us knew pretty well. In Western Europe, the audience craves for such pieces and performances. We thought we would be sitting in the back in a full house. But surprisingly and even shockingly, we were alone on a Friday night. 50 people in a room, which could contain the 600 spectators we saw the day before. For us the price was even more than cheap, it was 2€ the ticket, which is ridiculous when we compare it to our concert and opera prices. But the the price was not a sign of a bad quality, we saw a very respectable performance and even beautiful at some point : two very good basse singers and a light tenor who, in the second part sang a very touching aria. What a chance to be able to see and hear this. So why was it empty ? The Plovdiv Opera house has been in renovation for a few years and has still not reopened its doors to the public. But the orchestra, choir and the singers are still practising without their stage. Do they communicate enough of their performances ? Or do they wait for the moment when their opera will finally be theirs again ? Did we go not to a real concert but to some sort of dress rehearsal which will last for as long as the renovation lasts ?
Or is this price still too high for a Bulgarian budget ? What has become the general interest for classical music ? I do have an answer yet, but I know that we will try to figure it out during our stay here in Bulgaria.
It was disarming to witness so very different performances in two nights.