The history of native opera in Bulgaria is in practice the history of its composers. Those represented on this disc are
As the rest of Europe was developing opera and the other arts, Bulgaria was under the domination of the Ottoman Turks. The Ring was complete, Aida was the rage in Italy and Faust was nearly twenty years old when the first stirrings of even nationalist opera were to be found in Sofia. In neighboring Russia, the great operas of Glinka, Borodin and Musorgsky had already made their mark. In the dozen decades since, Bulgarian opera has progressed from ballad opera to substantial works such as Maistori and Zakhary Zografat on this disc.
The earliest operas were directly influenced by National Revival Theater. Considerable impetus also came from the Czech bandmasters who set up orchestras in Bulgaria immediately after the liberation of the country from the Turks in 1878, as well as from performances in the 80's and 90's by touring opera companies (nine Italian and two Russian). The subjects and plots were largely drawn from contemporary Bulgarian literary classics and from national history; but foreign operas performed in the country also influenced the development of musical theater.
The first Bulgarian opera, Siromachkinya (The Poor Woman, 1900) by Emanuil Manolov, is included on AE 205 "Opera from Bulgaria". Despite the immaturity of its style, one can see how the musical and theatrical forms common in the National Revival period were transformed into a new national genre. The transformation was complete by the time the works of Gerogi Atanasov began to appear. His operas follow the genre-specific pattern typical of the new school of operatic writing: a mixture of the everyday and the fantastic (Gergana, 1917), the historical (Borislav, 1911), and the legendary (Kosara, 1926). Gergana was particularly significant to the development of Bulgarian opera: its succession of colorful local scenes combined with spontaneous folklike music attracted large and enthusiastic audiences. By the end of the 1920's there was a move away from folk styles towards various modern European musical and theatrical traditions, involving an increasingly professional approach. One important development was the adoption of the principles of Wagner's music dramas, as can be heard, for example, in Atanasov's last two operas, Kossara and Altzec (1930).
In the 1930's, a new generation of composers animated Bulgarian musical life. Educated in countries with rich, sophisticated musical traditions, these composers, with their broader cultural horizons and their professionalism, opened up new paths, especially in opera, and helped establish a true national identity and international recognition for their country's music. Pancho Vladigerov and Veselin Stoyanov responded in particular to the Austro-German tradition: Vladigerov collaborated with Max Reinhard, the stage director at the Deutsche Theater, Berlin; Vladigerov's keen receptivity to Wagner's orchestration and to the music of Strauss can readily be heard in his opera Tsar Kaloyan (1936). The latter harks back to the traditions and spectacle of grand Romantic opera, with its elaborate plot, impressive crowd scenes and choruses, majestic processions and ballet episodes. Similar to it in style is Stoyanov's Salambo (1940), again displaying the full splendor and lavishness of late Romantic opera. In the same period there appeared a work which, because of its artistic merits and unique character, was as significant for Bulgaria as Debussy's Pelléas et Mélisande was for France: Lyubomir Pipkov's Yaninite devet bratya (Yana's Nine Brothers, 1937). The dramatic nature of this opera (comparable in style to Janacek's Jenufa and Shostakovich's Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District) is consistent with that of its subject matter, the Turkish invasion of Bulgaria, and reveals expressionist and symbolist qualities.
The emphasis on folk tradition - peasant songs and native verse - finds a parallel in Musorgsky's works. The development of Bulgarian opera after the 1944 socialist revolution reflected a new social and cultural environment, in that the customary freedom of treatment of the two most frequently encountered genres associated with the Romantic aesthetic - the heroic-historical opera and the comic opera based on everyday life - was now strictly proscribed. Compared with operas of the 1930's the musical language was much simplified: the works were pervaded by the tunes of mass revolutionary and urbanized peasant songs. The best-known operas from this period are Pipkov's Momchil (1948), Ivailo by Marin Goleminov, and Lud Gidiya (The Madcap) by Parashkev Hadjiev (both 1959). The early 1960's witnessed a move away from the inertia of rigid aesthetic norms and formal stereotypes. In contrast to the heroic and epic pseudo-Romantic operas of the 1940's and 50's, composers began to explore the more intimate psychological dimensions of drama, as in Hadjiev's Maistori (The Masters, 1966), Yula by Krasimir Kyurkchiiski (1969), and Goleminov's Zacharo Zografat (The Icon Painter Zakhary, 1972).