After the cultural blossoming at the beginning of the 10th century, when the Bulgarian nation controlled the majority of the Balkan Peninsula, a period of ruin ensued. At the end of the century, Bulgaria fell under Byzantine rule until 1185 AD, when three prominent Bulgarians raised a rebellion in the city of Veliko Turnovo and declared the independence of the Bulgarian nation. The two eldest brothers leading the rebellion (Peter and Assen) were killed, and their youngest brother, Kaloyan, took the throne in 1197 AD. He distinguished himself not only as a military leader, but also as a cunning diplomat. Taking advantage of the conflict between the Roman Pope and the Ecumenical Patriarch, Kaloyan sought to establish an independent leader of the Bulgarian church. The need for diplomatic relations drove him to make an agreement with the Roman Pope, whereby the knights of the Fourth Crusade were given free passage through Bulgarian territory. But instead of continuing towards the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, the crusaders laid siege to and captured Constantinople. The Latin Empire was established in 1204 AD, and Count Baldwin of Flanders was set up as emperor. Early on, the units of crusaders began to infringe upon Bulgarian territory. Upon hearing of a possible invasion by the crusaders in the early spring of 1207 AD, Kaloyan decided to meet their force at the edge of the Bulgarian territory. The decisive battle was fought at Adrianople (present day Edirne in Turkey). This was the first time that the heavily armored western knights were beaten by the light cavalry of the Bulgarians. Emperor Baldwin was taken hostage and a number of eminent knights were captured. As was the custom of the period, the knights were freed in exchange for ransom, but the emperor was left in Veliko Turnovo as collateral for the peace. Although he was treated with the utmost respect at the Bulgarian court, Baldwin immediately began to look for people who were willing to overthrow the Bulgarian ruler and to set a favorable peace with the Latin Empire in exchange for money and promises of power. The plot was unmasked and the people involved were beheaded. But, although Baldwin himself was dead, his goal was eventually achieved Kaloyan was killed several months later at the Siege of Solun.
The libretto was written by the poet Nikolai Liliev based on the novels "The Solun Miracle Worker" and "The Daughter of Kaloyan" by Fani Popova-Mutafova, a popular writer during the 1930s and 1940s. Liliev added a love story within the historical context.
Premier 20 May 1936 - Sofia National Opera
The opera as playlist
The citizens and leaders of Turnovo gather before the church of St. Michael (Dimitar) within which the coronation of king Kaloyan is taking place. The crown for the occasion as been sent by the Pope. The king emerges from the church with his queen, who is of Kuman origin to address the people and reveal his plans.
A herald appears and reports that Kaloyan's messengers have returned from the Latin Emperor. The proposals for peace and amity have been rejected. One of the messengers, Kliment, also tells of the military preparations of the Latin Empire. King Kaloyan takes his sword in his hand and bids his people to take up arms in order to defend their land.
Queen Maria, a Christianized Kuman, weeps alone in her quarters. Her lady-in-waiting, Zoia, tries in vain to cheer her up with a song. Feeling ignored by her husband, even the arrival of a fortuneteller who foretells of "strong love" and the coming of a great knight do not cheer the queen.
A group of young Kuman women arrives, but their graceful dances and songs only deepen the queen's sorrow. She sends them away and confides in her lady-in-waiting that she is having doubts whether Kaloyan will be victorious since he is so late in coming back from war.
Boril, the king's nephew enters unnoticed and overhear Maria. The power-seeking future king attempts to bridle the Kuman queen forcefully. She banishes him just as the noise of an aroused crowd is heard. Frightened men and women gather around the queen, thinking that the soldiers of the Latin Empire have finally invaded, but Kliment appears bringing tidings of Kaloyan's victorious return.
The people of Turnovo eagerly await the return of Kaloyan and his army at the city gates. Arhi, the bishop, blesses the people and the happy queen comes to welcome her lord. King Kaloyan appears at the head of his army.
After greeting his queen, Kaloyan orders the captive crusaders brought forth and that the irons are removed from their leader, the Latin Emperor Baldwin, who is then given back his sword. Baldwin thanks him for his royal kindness, underlining the nobility of the Bulgarian king, who introduces him to his queen. The Archbishop quietly warns Kaloyan not to be so quick in his good deeds but Kaloyan does not heed him. Happily, the king invites the people to dance and the celebrations begin. Baldwin is even more smitten by this than he is by Kaloyan's kindness.
The queen goes to the garden near the tower where Baldwin resides. Kaloyan is once again out fighting, and Maria, after a few innocent visits with the sad captive, is struck by a strong love. She knows that Baldwin often goes out during the dark summer nights to look for rest in the garden. Boril unexpectedly appears in front of the queen. He is once again looking for her love and lets her understand that he knows her secret, but has come in order to warn her that Kaloyan is returning; on being rejected, he leaves with a bow. The queen, dreamily awaiting Baldwin, heads towards the tower. After a moment Baldwin appears. He is saddened for his children and his dead wife. He cannot find peace in this foreign land, where he is a guest but also a captive.
Baldwin is surprised by the unexpected appearance of the queen. He still cannot grasp that under her façade of care for his health and well-being is a hidden love. He tells her of his sorrow and that his conscience is disturbed by the double sin: he became emperor instead of freeing the holy sepulcher; and abandoned his wife who died during her journey to Constantinople. Maria offers him her friendship, even help for his escape, everything that he might desire. But Baldwin reminds her of the nobility of Kaloyan and that she is his wife and that he is his friend. But she, having lost self-control, laughs at Baldwin's words, and tries to seduce him, relying on her charm and the enchantment of the summer night. Appalled, Baldwin returns to his tower, while the queen goes to ask her ancient Kuman gods to help her save Baldwin and thus win his love.
Baldwin has closed himself in his tower in order to avoid the queen. Having surrendered to his grief, he sings the song of the crusaders. His servant brings in a Catholic monk. Terrified, Baldwin realizes that the temptress Maria has concealed herself under a monk's habit. She promises him freedom. For a moment, Baldwin believes the queen's message that the real monk Dominic, who has lent her his habit, will be able to help him escape and see his own land once again, but he soon comes to his senses and wholly rejects the love-maddened queen, who leaves with threats and oaths.
Baldwin despairs. Soon, Dominic himself enters. He brings Baldwin tidings from his family and tells him about his children. Baldwin writes a letter to his brother in Constantinople and gives it to the monk
Kaloyan and Boril discuss state matters. Boril attempts to hint at the treachery in the castle. The queen, hidden behind a column, hears not only how Boril betrays her, but also how Kaloyan rejects the slander. Even so, she realizes the danger that she is in, and, after Boril leaves, she goes to her king in order to accuse Baldwin of having made covetous passes towards her.
Kaloyan does not want to believe it, but after he sends her away (she hides once again), and receives tidings from a messenger, he connects the attempts at revolt in Philipopol with the monk who has visited Baldwin. Believing that the captive is guilty, he sentences him to death.
Moments after that, the king's servants bring him the letter to his brother which has been found on the captured monk. The letter testifies to Baldwins innocence. The queen runs off, while Kaloyan sends his servants to stop the execution. He himself also heads to the tower.
The king arrives to the garden in front of the tower but Baldwin is already dead. Having heard a death knell, people gather in order to see what has happened. A couple of soldiers bring Baldwin's body out of the tower. The king, crushed, parts with him, while the bishop warns that the death of the emperor-captive will bring new trials to the nation.