Summer affair with the arts in Bulgaria's Plovdiv
SofiaEcho, 04 Jun 2007 - Sunnia Ko
Some sage advice for classical music lovers in Bulgaria: make plans to spend as much time as possible in Plovdiv this June. With the International Festival of Opera Arts, the International Festival of Chamber Music and the Festival of Old Town Songs, life cannot get much better for music fans. And for those even just a bit curious, there is plenty going on in Plovdiv (in additional to its usually vibrant art scene) this summer to make a visit worthwhile.
Posters all along the glavnata, or Plovdiv’s main drag, Knyaz Alexander, will provide plenty of information about summer town happenings even for the geographically challenged. But get yourself to the “poshta”, and you’ll spot the ever-helpful Tourist Information Centre of Plovdiv municipality, where their experts can direct you to anything you’ll need during your time in Plovdiv. And if you’re lucky, Frantz Kadiri, senior expert at the Tourist Information Centre, will be on duty, sharing with inquirers at the centre all the insight one gains from growing up in Plovdiv.
Notes of culture
Kicking off the summer festivals on June 10 to 20 is the 43rd International Festival of Chamber Music held at Plovdiv’s Ethnographic Museum in the Old Town. Co-sponsored by the National Centre for Music and Dance, the municipality of Plovdiv and the Minister of Culture, organisers proudly claim this festival to be “the oldest and only one of its kind”. Judges and performers of this chamber music festival come from many countries, with past performers including the likes of the Parisian Chamber Orchestra and the London Serenade.
This year, in its 21st year, Plovdiv’s extremely popular Verdi Festival once again is the summer cultural highlight in town, running from June 20 to July 13.
With a new name this year, the Festival of Operatic Arts includes in its programme works from other opera greats such as Strauss and Bellini. Bulgarian opera fans flock to Plovdiv for this perennial favourite of course for its magical venue: all performances are held in Old Plovdiv’s ancient Roman amphitheatre. And according to Kadiri, “that’s the uniqueness of Plovdiv’s Verdi Festival”. The ancient amphitheatre is really “the best stamp of the town because the first thing we recommend when visitors come into the centre is the amphitheatre in the Old Town”, Kadiri told The Sofia Echo.
Built at the beginning of the second century originally for gladiator and hunting games, the opera festival’s venue delights goers with the opportunity to experience ancient Roman acoustics - something not to be missed, whether one is or isn’t an opera fan. Among the line-up in this year’s opera festival is Donecetti’s Love Elixir, which officially opens the festival on June 20 to 22.
Among other performances in this year’s lineup are Bellini’s Norma on June 27 and Strauss’ Gypsy Baron playing from July 4 to 6. The finale of the festival of course belongs to Verdi, with a production of Aida on July 12.
All performances cost five leva but those on a tight opera budget need not worry that they’ll miss any of the action. The cafe behind the amphitheatre has lounge chairs that allow you to watch the performances from the top of the amphitheatre while sipping your beverage of choice, or you might even choose to bring your own picnic and watch from the hill behind the left side (stage left) of the amphitheatre.
Tradition and books
Another music festival set to take place in mid-June is the municipality of Plovdiv’s Culture Festival of Old Town Songs. From June 15 to 17 in the City Cultural Hall, grab a beer and hum along, even if you don’t know the lyrics. What’s most important is that everyone channels nostalgia via these songs of ages long gone and try to relive Bulgaia’s glory days.
For those with a literary bent, June ushers in Plovdiv Reads, a series of events promoting and celebrating books and literature in Plovdiv. Publishers from all over the country hold exhibitions of their books while readings and book premieres take place in the Bulgarian National Revival-era houses of the Old Town. Events are also scheduled to take place around Trimontium Hotel near the main square.
Paint by number
And summer also has something in store for the more visually inclined. Held every July in Plovdiv, the International Plenary for Painters is a 10-day event during which artists from countries as varied as Greece, Spain, Sweden, Russia, Chile, Korea, Macedonia, Kuwait, Japan and South Africa are invited to paint their interpretations of Plovdiv’s Old Town. With a 30-year history under its belt, this year’s festivities begin on July 1 and last through to July 10. To bring it all together, the plenary closes with an art exhibition of all the participating artists organised by the Minister of Culture.
Folk for folks
While not everyone may be a fan of classical chamber music or opera, it’s hard to not get excited about the International Folk Festival, when groups from numerous countries converge upon Plovdiv and display traditional costumes and performances for this four-day celebration. This year’s event, held from July 30 to August 3, marks Plovdiv’s 14th International Folk Festival, which, in years past, has started in Veliko Turnovo and travelled to Plovdiv in its second week.
In fact, the popularity of this event has spread beyond Bulgaria’s borders and what was once an event for which the municipality invited participants from abroad has turned into one in which participants request to be included in the programme. Each year, seven to eight select groups participate and according to Kadiri, “last year more than 50 groups contacted the municipality and asked to be included in the programme. In the end, the municipality had to select only a fraction of the groups for its final programme”.
The festival opens with a parade of all participant groups in traditional national folk costumes parading down Knyaz Alexander, Plovdiv’s main pedestrian-only street. From Tsar Simeon Garden all the way to the Roman amphitheatre in Old Town, spectators get a preview of the various international participants. Participants from past years include folk groups from Costa Rica, Puerto Rico, Nigeria, Colombia, Greece, Turkey, Serbia, Moldova, Egypt, India, Belarus, Poland, Portugal and Italy. Then on each night of the festival, a different participating group will perform their country’s traditional folk dances in the amphitheatre. Spectators most likely will favour their hometown Bulgarian representatives at the International Folk Festival, but no doubt the diversity of participants each year in this event can offer Plovdiv and attendees from surrounding towns a wealth of knowledge of world cultures.
And with all these festivities packed into the two months of summer, it’s no wonder that Plovdiv has been dubbed the culture capital of Bulgaria.