One of Bulgaria's musical emblems was born on this date

80 years since the birth of Bulgarian operatic diva Ghena Dimitrova

Photo: archive

The Day of the Bulgarian Army, the Orthodox and folklore St. George's Day, the 6th day of May adds yet another reason for celebration for music lovers around the world - on this date, 80 years ago, the great Bulgarian opera singer Ghena Dimitrova was born. She is among the musical emblems of Bulgaria, she is recognized as one of the best singers of Verdi’s operas, who left fond memories with her students, admirers and followers. The events dedicated to this significant anniversary have already begun - on April 30 the Sofia Opera House presented "Macbeth" with Alexandrina Pendachanska and Kiril Manolov, and the artist Plamen Rusev, nephew of the opera prima, dedicated his exhibition "Dragon Feathers" to her. And we, from Radio Bulgaria, will remind you of significant moments from her biography.

Born in the village of Beglezh, near the town of Pleven, Ghena began her career in Bulgaria. Her first role was Abigail in Verdi's Nabucco, on the stage of the Sofia Opera, in 1967. In a recording from 1978, stored in the Golden Fund of the Bulgarian National Radio, Ghena Dimitrova says:


"I can't remember when I first heard opera music, but all the works I got in touch with in the 1950s because then I was formed as a young person who started dreaming of some profession, influenced me. Among them were the films dedicated to Verdi, Schumann, Bellini, the Soviet "Vocation" (from 1956, directed by Maria Fyodorova) about discovering young talents, the Argentine "La edad del amor” (The Age of Love) from 1954 with the famous actress and singer Lolita Torres. They made me think about the voice I had, which was discovered by my teachers in high school, and to set out on the path to opera. I can't say that I easily achieved everything. My entry into the Conservatory (now the Pancho Vladigerov National Music Academy) was starting from scratch. I took the competition exam as a mezzo-soprano, I sang Azuchena's little aria from Verdi's Il Trovatore and a Russian song without accompaniment. I was not well prepared, but I had very good hearing and innate musicality, which still helps me in the difficult things that I have to overcome every day. I was accepted into the preparatory class because of exceptional voice qualities. Fortunately for me, I was immediately accepted into the class of Prof. Brambarov, who took great care of me, but I also listened to him a lot. I was a difficult voice, I studied as a mezzo-soprano for two years, then I went to the soprano range. I was trained into vocalises for a long time - about five years, then I started working hard on individual works. When I entered the opera, I studied the individual parts with the professor.


While studying, Ghena Dimitrova used to work in the university canteen of the Conservatory to support herself. Some of her classmates used to make fun of the "village girl." One of her professors uttered a phrase that would remain in history: "Today you are making fun of her for washing your dishes, but one day you will wash hers!" In the recording in question, Ghena also shared that the first prize in the International Competition for young opera singers in Sofia (1970) gave her the opportunity for a two-year specialization in the Studio for Young Opera Singers at the La Scala opera school in Milan. During her internship, the young singer participated in competitions and opera productions in Italy, and in 1972 she played the role of Amelia in Puccini's "Masked Ball" at "La Scala", together with Placido Domingo and Piero Cappuccili. Her first appearance at the Vienna State Opera (Wiener Staatsoper) was in 1978. Before that she had sung in major opera houses in Europe, Argentina and Brazil. Between 1980 and 1983 she was a regular guest at the Arena di Verona. The premiere of Turandot at La Scala on December 7, 1983 marked the beginning of an extremely successful decade.


In the iconic production of Franco Zeffirelli, Ghena partneredagain with Placido Domingo. This was followed by her memorable incarnations as Lady Macbeth in "Macbeth" and Amneris in Verdi's "Aida" (also in "La Scala"), Lady Macbeth at the Salzburg Festival, again Abigaille in "La Scala"„.


To this day, there are reports in the opera world of curious details about Zeffirelli's Turandot in Milan. Large-scale, lavish and quite expensive, the production did not appeal to the critics, who turned it into a scandal, despite the fact that at the premiere the audience chanted the name of the Bulgarian diva and insisted that she bow again and again. Later, the great director decided to transfer the "Chinese princess" to the Metropolitan and without hesitation invited Ghena again. For her, this is her first appearance at the prestigious opera house. Then, for 10 years, her name appeared in the playbill of each season.

Ghena Dimitrova conducted master classes in Athens, Rome, Budapest, Sofia and others. She worked with young singers, organized concerts, participating in some of them as a performer. In memory of her care for the future of opera the international competition "Ghena Dimitrova" is held annually in the town of Pleven which this year awaits its fourth edition.


Symbolically, memorial plaques placed in front of her home in Vienna and her native house in the village of Beglezh mark the life path of the unforgettable singer - a path dotted with difficulties, but also with the greatest recognition for an artist - love and memory for what they have left on this earth.


English version Rositsa Petkova

Photos: library, operasz.bg and BGNES

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