Then and Now

BUCHAREST NATIONAL OPERA HOUSE

Public cultural institution subordinate to the Ministry of Culture,

member of Opera Europa and of RESEO -

 

 

The Beginnings

 

Since the late eighteenth century, many foreign companies have given opera and ballet performances in the major cities in Romania. In Bucharest, the companies led by Livio Cinti, Eduard Keriblig, the Forneaux brothers, Th. Geffrey performed works of composers Adolphe Charles Adam, Daniel Auber, Francois-Adrien Boieldieu, Jacques Halévy, Ferdinand Herold, and Vincenzo Bellini.

 

In 1843, the first Italian theatre was opened in Bucharest with the opera Norma by Vincenzo Bellini, followed by Lucia di Lammermoor by Gaetano Donizetti, The Barber of Seville and La Cenerentola (Cinderella) by Gioachino Rossini. Just as it had happened more than a century before, in France, Germany and England, after 1850, in parallel with the Italian opera theatre, national lyric companies, consisting of amateurs in the beginning and later on of students of the Philharmonic School (established in 1834) were giving opera and operetta performances. The first opera performance of the students of the Philharmonic School was Semiramide by Gioacchino Rossini.

 

The activity of the Italian and Romanian companies was extremely rich, most of the titles of those times being known in Bucharest after a short time from their world premieres. On the other hand, some Romanian artists became international celebrities: Eufrosina Vlasto, Rosa de Rude, the first great professor of voice – Elena Teodorini, tenor Grigore Gabrielescu, bass-baritone Dimitrie Popovici-Bayreuth, Hariclea Darclée and others.

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From the Opera Society to the Romanian Opera

 

After 1870, composer and conductor George Stephănescu tried, together with many other Romanian artists, to persuade the authorities to establish a lyrical theatre subsidized by the state budget. He established an opera company, whose launch took place on 8 May 1885 with the performance of Linda di Chamonix by Gaetano Donizetti, sung in Romanian. At that time, the company gave performances in various halls in the city, often sharing rehearsal space and stage with the actors of the National Theatre. In tough financial conditions, with Romanian and Italian mixed casts, the company presented, nevertheless, an important repertoire that included operettas, vaudevilles and the most beloved Italian, French and German operas by very popular composers such as Gioacchino Rossini, Gaetano Donizetti, Vincenzo Bellini, Giuseppe Verdi, Charles Gounod, Giacomo Puccini, and Richard Wagner.

 

In the first decades of the twentieth century, the people of Bucharest and not only them could boast an active cultural life, supported in the opera field by prestigious artists such as Florica Cristoforeanu, Elena Drăgulinescu-Stinghe, Romulus Vrăbiescu, Edgar Istratty, Enriquetta Rodrigo, George Folescu, D. Mihăilescu-Toscani, A. Demetrescu de Silva, George Niculescu-Basu, Jean Athanasiu and so forth.

 

In 1921, the Opera Society received the necessary funds to meet the institutionalisation criteria, becoming the Romanian Opera. This was also due to the Minister of Arts and Cults, poet Octavian Goga, also the husband of a famous soprano of that time, Veturia Goga, dubbed “the Nightingale of Transylvania”. The opening performance was an extraordinary event, the premiere of the opera Lohengrin by Richard Wagner, staged by director Adalbert Markowski, with George Enescu conducting the musical ensemble. 

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The Birth of the Ballet Company

 

In 1924, three years after the institutionalisation of the Romanian Opera, Anton Romanovski established his residency in Romania, founding the first ballet company. The former first-soloist, of Polish origin, had danced together with Vaslav Nijinski, Anna Pavlova, Tamara Karsavina and Matilda Kshesinskaya, the greatest names of the era in the art of dance. The first ballet performances that he staged were strongly influenced by the style of great choreographer Mihail Fokin.

 

In 1929, Vera Carally, graduate of the Imperial School of Ballet in Moscow, former first-soloist of the Bolshoi Theatre and member of the Russian Ballets company, led by Serghei Diaghilev, took over the management of the company and staged, in 1932, Swan Lake by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky after the original choreography with a cast consisting entirely of Romanian dancers. Several Romanian ballets premiered that year: La Piață (At the Market) by Mihail Jora, Taina (The Mystery) by Mihai Andricu, Nunta în Carpați (Wedding in the Carpathians) by Paul Constantinescu.

 

The first ballet master of the Bucharest company was Floria Capsali, whose career began in 1938. She reorganised the ballet troupe, expanding it, she promoted young performers in the lead roles and formed a generation of assistants whose training was closely dealt with by her.

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The Romanian Opera Receives a Headquarters

 

After 1950, the Opera finally receives a headquarters meant to replace the one at the National Theatre, destroyed by the bombing of the capital during the war. Thus, the enhanced conditions offered allowed for the creation of lyrical and choreographic productions of prime importance.

 

The inauguration of the new building was marked by the premiere, on 9 January 1954, of the opera The Queen of Spades by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, a performance followed by the premiere of the ballet Coppélia by Léo Delibes, on 10 January 1954, in a production signed by master choreographer Anton Romanowski. Naturally, a period of great artistic growth followed, the repertory also including Romanian works.

 

Generation after generation the Romanian school of voice discovered remarkable artists whose evolution illustrated the decades that followed. There was in fact a torch passing that ensured the historical alliance of artists belonging to the first Romanian lyrical stage. Renowned conductors such as Umberto Pessione, Egizio Massini, Jean Bobescu, Ionel Perlea, George Georgescu, Alfred Alessandrescu, Constantin Silvestri, Cornel Trăilescu, Constantin Bugeanu, Mihai Brediceanu, Carol Litvin, Paul Popescu, Stelian Olariu, directors such as Constantin Pavel, Panait Cottescu, Jean Rânzescu, George Teodorescu, Hero Lupescu, stage designers such as Paula Brâncoveanu, Elisabeta Benedek, Roland Laub,  passed on, throughout time, their stage experience to the generations of today.

 

In the same period, artists of great talent from around the world sang on the Opera stage, while other Romanian singers were having their value acknowledged in international careers: Traian Grozăvescu, Florica Cristoforeanu, Maria Cebotari, Viorica Ursuleac, Dimitrie Onofrei, Stella Roman, and Petre Munteanu. In the dynamics of generations, many other prominent artists followed, able to convince the public of the fascinating world of opera performances. Among those illustrating the second half of the twentieth century we mention Petre Ștefănescu-Goangă, Evantia Costinescu, Maria Snejina, Nicu Apostolescu, Dora Massini, Ioana Nicola, Valentina Crețoiu, Șerban Tassian, Dinu Bădescu, Nicolae Secăreanu, Arta Florescu, Lucia Bercescu.

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The Ballet Company among the Best Companies in the World

 

After the Second World War, Russian ballet masters and choreographers such as Seda Vasilieva, Ivan Kurilor and Igor Smirnov are invited and the repertoire is enriched with ballet entertainment and choreographic miniatures totalling approximately 50 works created in different styles, from academic to neoclassical and modern.

 

The choreographers that mark the second half of the twentieth century – Oleg Danovksi, Tilde Urseanu, Vasile Marcu – address the classical repertoire but also create original works.

 

Due to their excellent artistic performance, appreciated not only on the occasion of their participation to international ballet competitions or festivals of the genre, but also in several tours which they went on throughout their careers, the first-soloists of the company received the international acknowledgement which placed them in the gallery of great ballet stars: Irinel Liciu, Gabriel Popescu, Valentina Massini, Sergiu Ștefanschi, Magdalena Popa, Ileana Iliescu, Elena Dacian, Gheorghe Cotovelea, Marinel Ștefănescu, Petre Ciortea, Ioan Tugearu, Rodica Simion.

 

Since 1965, after the Paris tour with Stere Popescu’s show The Hammer Without a Master by Pierre Boulez, many ballet dancers chose to continue their career abroad, teaching as ballet masters or tutors: Magdalena Popa, Sergiu Ștefanschi (Canada), Marinel Ștefănescu, Ștefan Bănică, George Bodnarciuc (Italy), Pavel Rotaru, Marin Boeru (US), Aurora Rotaru (Sweden), Cristina Hamel, Rodica Simion (Germany), Gelu Barbu (Spain), Gigi Căciuleanu, Ruxandra Racovitza (France).

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Oedipus, by George Enescu

 

A great event in modern history is the staging of Oedipus, Enescu’s masterpiece, during the first edition of the George Enescu International Festival (1958).

 

Later, during the 60s, 70s and 80s, artists such as Elena Cernei, Magda Ianculescu, Ion Buzea, Viorica Cortez, Ileana Cotrubaș, Octav Enigărescu, Arta Florescu, Nicolae Herlea, Dan Iordăchescu, Marina Krilovici, Iolanda Mărculescu, Victoria Bezetti, Valentin Teodorian, Cornel Stavru, Octavian Naghiu, Teodora Lucaciu, David Ohanesian, Zenaida Pally, Iulia Buciuceanu, Lella Cincu, Ion Piso, Ladislau Konya, Maria Slătinaru-Nistor, Ludovic Spiess, Eugenia Moldoveanu, Eduard Tumagian, Constantin Gabor, Vasile Martinoiu, Silvia Voinea, Ionel Voineag became successful on the world’s greatest stages.

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After 1990

 

In the period after 1990, various titles were replayed in new stagings, and the company was continuously added with new and young voices. Singers like Sorina Munteanu, Ecaterina Țuțu, Ionel Voineag, Sever Barnea, Iulia Isaev, Marius Brenciu, Irina Iordăchescu stand out in the myriad of leading singers of that time, as well as performers whose careers are conducted abroad, such as Ruxandra Donose, Elena Moșuc, Adina Nițescu, Alexandru Agache, etc.

 

The repertoire of the ballet company has evolved, having master choreographers such as Ioan Tugearu, Alexa Mezincescu, Gelu Barbu, Gigi Căciuleanu etc., with titles such as Romeo and Juliet by Serghei Prokofiev, Carmina Burana by Carl Orff, Daphnis and Chloe by Maurice Ravel and so on.

 

 

Bibliographic references

 

Mihai Cosma, Opera Națională din București – 50 de stagiuni în actuala clădire (The Bucharest National Opera – 50 Seasons in the Current Building), Editura Coresi, Bucharest, 2004

 

Lazăr Octavian Cosma, Hronicul Operei Române din București (Vol. 1) (The Chronicle of the Romanian Opera in Bucharest (Volume 1)), Editura Muzicală, Bucharest, 2003

 

Cătălin Caracaș, Vivia Săndulescu, Consemnări coregrafice. Baletul Operei Naționale București (Choreographic Records. The Ballet of the Bucharest National Opera), Editura RAO, Bucharest, 2011

 

Octavian Lazăr Cosma, Opera românească, vol. I și II (Romanian Opera, volumes I and II), Editura Muzicală, Bucharest, 1962

 

Tilde Urseanu, Ion Ianegic, Liviu Ionescu, Istoria baletului (History of Ballet), Editura Muzicală a Uniunii Compozitorilor din RSR, Bucharest, 1967

 

Perspectives

 

Since 2013, the Bucharest National Opera is undergoing a comprehensive managerial, artistic and image reorientation process.

 

The Opera is the meeting place for artists characterized mainly by their musical performance and virtuosity. With this premise in mind, the new vision aims to set the institution on an exceptional artistic journey, worthy of being on par with that of other institutions from abroad with a long history and remarkable achievements. 

 

Thus, the intention of inviting so many great names of the international stage to mount performances at the Opera – directors (such as Stephen Barlow, Graham Vick, John Fulljames, Paul Curran, etc.) and choreographers from the classical genre (Johan Kobborg, Gheorghe Iancu, etc.) or the contemporary genre (Mats Ek, Sasha Waltz etc.), as well as most valuable soloists and ballet dancers, is meant to place the Opera on the map of the world’s most important artistic centres. Moreover, the production of performances rates as valuable (significant titles from the national and universal repertoire, directed or choreographed by personalities in the field) will allow the institution to take part in important festivals abroad.

 

The first steps in this direction are related to the organization of events such as Giuseppe Verdi Gala – 200 years since the birth of Richard Wagner with some of the most internationally awarded Romanian soloists (March 2013), an event that occasioned the launching of a heraldic seal of the Bucharest National Opera, the establishment of a new International Singing Contest to which over 100 participants from dozens of countries enrolled, the return to the repertoire of popular opera and ballet titles after many years of absence (the ballet Swan Lake staged by Gheorghe Iancu), premieres of international character (the national premiere of the ballet La Sylphide staged by Johan Kobborg, the premiere of a new staging of the opera Rigoletto, directed by Stephen Barlow), etc.

 

Furthermore, the building of the Bucharest National Opera is in the process of rehabilitation, the works on the façade and offices having already started, while the renovation of the stage, the concert hall and the public spaces are scheduled to begin in the summer of 2014.