The history of the Bucharestlyrical performance closely mirrors the evolution of the last two centuries’Romanian society, naturally integrated into the European civilization. In thisrespect, the beginnings of professional music in Wallachiacoincide with the organization of musical events, the public opera performancesopening unexpected horizons from a cultural point of view and from theperspective of musical masterpieces knowledge.
At that time, the Romanian territory was crossed by numerousforeign companies staying in major cities, offering performances of the Italianand German repertoires, as early as the end of the 18th century (inBucharest, companies led by Livio Cinti, Eduard Kreibig, brothers Fourneaux,Th. Geffrey performed operas by Adolphe Ch. Adam, Daniel Auber, François-Adrien Boieldieu,Jacques Halévy, Ferdinand Herold, Vincenzo Bellini).
In 1843, the first Italian theater opens in Bucharest with the opera “Norma” byVincenzo Bellini, followed by “Lucia di Lamermoor” by Gaetano Donizetti, “IlBarbiere di Siviglia” (“The Barber of Seville”), “La Cenerentola” (“Cinderella”) byGioacchino Rossini. Henriette Carl’s company brings to Bucharestsoloists from Milan, and for a while, thelyrical ensemble led by the famous Giuseppe Villa and Giuseppe Barbieri alsojoins them, while PhilharmonicSchool students presenttheir first performance with the opera “Semiramide” by Gioacchino Rossini.
After 1850, parallel to the Italian theater, severalRomanian lyrical companies also perform, led by N. Luchian, Costache Caragiale,Matei Millo. Even if mentioned sporadically, these lyrical seasons form anaudience able to appreciate productions staged immediately after the respectivepremieres, bearing the signatures of composers like Rossini, Bellini or, after1860, Verdi. These conditions determined career options and the launching ofthe Romanian lyrical voices worldwide.
Severalnames were already talked about as they had met success in the theatres of thetime, becoming international celebrities such as Eufrosina Vlasto - “La Marcollini”, CorneliaCretu-Höllösi (Budapest), Rozalia Bodea - Rosa de Rude (Milan, Paris, Bergamo, Belin,London, Vienna), soprano and first great singing professor Elena Teodorini,tenor Grigore Gabrielescu, bass-baritone Dimitrie Popovici-Bayreuth, tenorGiovanni Dimitrescu, sopranos Margareta Iamandi “Nuovina”, Zina de Nori, artiststhat were highly appreciated at the Scala in Milan, Metropolitan in New York, OpéraNational de Paris, as well as in theatres in Sankt Petersburg, Bayreuth or Riode Janeiro. The greatest soprano of that brilliant series could be HaricleaHartulary, whom Saint-Saëns had named “Darclée”. A soloist in the role Tosca in Giacomo Puccini’sopera, composed especially for her, Darclée was a close friend of RuggeroLeoncavallo’s and often replaced Adelina Patti.
After 1870, in its triple-fold capacity as a composer, a teacherand a conductor, George Stephanescu carried out, for several decades, an activityso important in its complex nature, that he has remained one of the prominentfigures of 19th century Romanian lyrical art history.
In Stephanescu’s opinion, the opera should stand for aculture institution in the service of social progress. “Theater is the people’sschool and the entertainment”. This is actually the main field bearing GeorgeStephanescu’s name in capitals, among the founders of the Romanian modern musicalworld, from the perspective of lyrical art.
The foundation of the lyrical company by George Stephanescu,in 1892, was followed by a series of initiatives aiming to impose the idea of aRomanian Opera House (the former name of the Bucharest National Opera) in thelocal cultural life. The launching of the Bucharest
Lyrical company on May 8th 1885, with the opera “Lindadi Chamounix” by Gaetano Donizetti, sang in Romanian, was a memorableevent. The diversity of the repertoire reflected his artistic ambitions andthose of other promoters. The repertoire included operettas and vaudevilles andmost beloved works of Italian and French composers of highest popularity suchas Gioacchino Rossini, Gaetano Donizetti, Vincenzo Bellini, Giuseppe Verdi, CharlesGounod, Giacomo Puccini, Richard Wagner. The encouraging chronicles in themedia were doubled by the presence of numerous foreign guests, placing the Bucharest stage on theirtouring route: Adelina Patti, Mattia Battistini, Titto Ruffo, GemmaBellincioni, Luisa Tetrazzini, Leo Slezak, Ernest van Dyck, Pauline Lucca,Yvonne de Tréville sau dirijori ca Felix von Weingartner.
In the first decades of the 20th century,Bucharest could pride itself with its active cultural life in the field ofopera, among the artists of the time standing out Florica Cristoforeanu, ElenaDragulinescu-Stinghe, Romulus Vrabiescu, Edgar Istratty, Enriquetta Rodrigo, GeorgeFolescu, D. Mihailescu-Toscani, A. Demetrescu de Silva, George Niculescu-Basu,Mircea Lazar, Jean Athanasiu, Vasile Rabega, Elena Roman, Alexandra Ferraru,Grigore Maggiari, Nectara de Flondor. Most of the enumerated ones are stillartists who will continue to build the national opera seasons. Gradually, the provenvalue by such singers, reunited for performances in various forms at that time,imposed the need to support the establishment of a state opera house. The Ministerfor Arts and Religion, the poet Octavian Goga, the husband of a famous voice ofthe time, soprano Veturia Goga, surnamed “Transylvania’s Nightingale”, wasinvolved in solving the problems of finalizing the status of the Opera,temporarily functioning as the RomanianLyrical Society “The Opera”, led by IonNonna Otescu, under the patronage of H.M.Queen Mary.
In 1921, “The Opera” received the necessary funds to meetthe criteria for the institutionalization of a national musical theater,becoming the ROMANIAN OPERA. The inaugural show was a remarkable event, thepremiere of the opera “Lohengrin” by Richard Wagner, staged by director AdalbertMarkowski, the ensemble being conducted by George Enescu. Generation aftergeneration, the Romanian school of singing revealed remarkable values, whoseevolution illustrates the following decades. There is actually a takeover ensuring the historical unity of artistsbelonging to the leading Romanian lyrical stage. Famous conductors suchas Umberto Pessione, Egizio Massini, Jean Bobescu, Ionel Perlea, GeorgeGeorgescu, Alfred Alessandrescu, Constantin Silvestri, Cornel Trailescu,Constantin Bugeanu, Mihai Brediceanu, Carol Litvin, Paul Popescu and latelyAdrian Morar, Iurie Florea, Vlad Conta; choir masters Gheorghe Kulibin, StelianOlariu; directors Constantin Pavel, Panait Cotescu, Jean Rânzescu, GeorgeTeodorescu, Hero Lupescu. As far as singers are concerned, in addition to thealready enumerated ones, the following should be mentioned: Emilia Alessandrescu,Mihail Nasta, Romulus Vrabiescu, Grigore Teodorescu, Elena Ivony, AurelCostescu-Duca, Cecilia Nasta-Cerchez, Maria Cojocareanu and Margareta Metaxa, allof them contributing to the international reputation of the theater.
In the same period, leading artists from around the worldsang on the Opera stage, while other Romanian singers were asserting themselvesin international careers: Traian Grozavescu, Florica Cristoforeanu, MariaCebotari, Viorica Ursuleac, Dimitrie Onofrei, Stella Roman, Petre Munteanu. Manyother famous artists, able to convince the audience about the fascinating worldof lyrical performances, have followed over generations. Among those whoillustrate the second half of the 20th century, it is worthmentioning Petre Stefanescu-Goanga, Evantia Costinescu, Maria Snejina, NicuApostolescu, Dora Massini, Ioana Nicola, Valentina Cretoiu, Serban Tassian,Dinu Badescu, Nicolae Secareanu, Arta Florescu, Lucia Bercescu.
After 1950, the Opera has finally received its own premises, intended toreplace the National Theatre, destroyed by the bombing on the capital duringthe war. This created conditions for the achievement of lyrical andchoreographic productions of primary importance.
Theinauguration of the new building was marked, on January 9th 1954, bythe premiere “Queen of Spades” by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, followed by the balletpremiere “Coppélia” by Léo Delibes (January 10th 1954), in aproduction signed by Master choreographer Anton Romanowski. Naturally, therewas a period of great artistic expansion, the repertoire including also highlyvaluable Romanian works. Undoubtedly the lyrical theatre was asserting itself,opera artists participating in the national cultural events.
Beyond the historical conditions of the moment, Romanian performers continue tobe well known abroad, many of them having been awarded major internationalprizes in singing competitions in Toulouse, Geneva, s’Herzogenbosch, Montreal,Sofia, Rio de Janeiro, Moscow, Leipzig, Munich, Salzburg, Barcelona, Bussetoetc. Thus, exceeding the previous promotion conditions, the Opera and BalletTheatre (the temporary name of the Bucharest Opera, inspired by the Sovietmodel) imposed itself as a highly appreciated stage of internationalimportance, making tours in Paris, Moscow and Athens.
A greatevent in modern history is the staging of Enescu’s masterpiece “Oedipe” at thefirst International Festival “George Enescu” (1958). Romanian artists weredistinguishing themselves on the world’s greatest stages: Elena Cernei,Magda Ianculescu, Ion Buzea, Viorica Cortez, Ileana Cotrubas, Octav Enigarescu,Arta Florescu, Nicolae Herlea, Dan Iordachescu, Marina Krilovici, Iolanda Marculescu,Victoria Bezetti, Valentin Teodorian, Cornel Stavru, Octavian Naghiu, TeodoraLucaciu, David Ohanesian, Zenaida Pally, Iulia Buciuceanu, Lella Cincu, IonPiso, Ladislau Konya, Maria Slatinaru Nistor, Ludovic Spiess, EugeniaMoldoveanu, Eduard Tumagian, Constantin Gabor, Vasile Martinoiu, Silvia Voinea.
After 1990, the political problems have been largely replaced by the managementones. Several titles were resumed in new productions, and the performers’ teamwas continually completed with young voices of leading singers of that time – EcaterinaTutu, Oana Andra, Ionel Voineag, Sever Barnea, Iulia Isaev, Marius Brenciu, RobertNagy, Mihaela Stanciu, Stefan Ignat, Iordache Basalic – , as well as singers performing abroad, such asRuxandra Donose, Elena Mosuc, Adina Nitescu, Ruxandra Urdareanu, AlexandruAgache. The impact on the audience is reinforced by the series of artists whohave provided spectacular and powerful directing views, scenographers PaulaBrâncoveanu, Elisabeta Benedek, Roland Laub, Viorica Petrovici, AdrianaUrmuzescu, Catalin Ionescu Arbore.
The initiative of opening the Ballet and Opera ExperimentalStudio “Ludovic Spiess”, originally led by the young conductor Tiberiu Soare,the participation in the inter-European project promoted by the Central & Eastern European Musiktheater(CEE), the International Singing competition “Masters of Lyrical Art”, the collaborationwith the Accademia La Scalawithin the project StudiOpera are some of the strongest arguments for the speedat which today’s developments happen and for the modern mentality assertedduring the two centuries’ history of the Bucharest lyrical theatre.
Prof. univ. dr. Grigore Constantinescu