The beginnings of opera and ballet in Macedonia can be traced to the early decades of the 20th century and are directly related to the existence of theatre ensembles in Skopje and Stip and, to a certain extent, in Bitola. The first stirrings of both arts was the performance of plays accompanied by chorus; at the same time, the formation of choirs, vocal and instrumental ensembles, chamber and philharmonic orchestras, and the establishment of schools of music laid the basic foundations upon which Macedonian ballet and opera would be built. The foundation of a music school in Skopje by patrons of the arts occurred in 1910. Five years later, the opera Cavalleria Rusticana by Pietro Mascagni was performed in Skopje, backed by patrons of opera who subsequently formed their own association.
Somewhat later, Stip appeared as a mature environment for music and theatre. Added to Stip's vocal ensemble was the innovative music teacher of Russian origin Sergie Mihajlov, while Dusan Budimirovic and Slavko Netkov wrote the opera A Macedonian -- the performance of which is now one of the cornerstones of opera in Macedonia, as stated by Risto Stefanovski in his book The Theatre in Macedonia. Together with a number of vocal soloists (Andrija Scerbakov, Blagorodna Burova, Slavko Netkov, Pance Mirovski) and the Edinstvo (Unity) Choir, Mihajlov prepared the premiere of the opera I Pagliacci by Ruggiero Leoncavallo in 1925 and planned initial performances of Carmen by Georges Bizet, La Traviata by Giuseppe Verdi, and Faust by Charles Gounod -- but only the first act of La Traviata was performed, and parts of the others. Still, by the 1930s, the opera ensemble of the Stip Theatre already numbered 40 members, and later the operettas Geisha and Mamselle Nitush were performed.
Blagorodna Burova played the main role in most of these features, and as the first great Macedonian opera singer, her repertoire included Pavlina from A Macedonian, Nedda from I Pagliacci, Violetta Valery from La Traviata, and Gretchen from Faust.
In the early 1920s, Skopje hosted a considerable number of opera and ballet concerts by local artists and with guests from Belgrade, Novi Sad, Leningrad, Kiev, and Sofia, thus growing familiar with the works of Leoncavallo, Verdi, Massenet, Offenbach, Saint-Saens, Delibes, and other masters. However, its audience demanded full-length performances like that of Cavalleria Rusticana. In 1923-24, the operettas Mamselle Nitush and The Fair Helen were performed, and in 1925 the play La Dame aux Camelias by Alexandre Dumas (from which Verdi wrote La Traviata) with the aria of Violetta Valery from the first act of the opera.
In the 1930s, Skopje enjoyed La Traviata, Madam Butterfly by Giacomo Puccini, Orphee aux Eenters by Jacques Offenbach, and other works performed fully or in part. In 1937, Cavalleria Rusticana was performed, and Troubadour by Giuseppe Verdi in 1938, while the names of Anatolija Zukovska, Milos Ristic, Nina Kirsanova, Pia and Pino MIakar appeared regularly at the ballet. Some of the figures who had decisive contribution to the development of opera and ballet in post-World War II Macedonia had already grown familiar to audiences during the 1930s as young composers, conductors or singers, the most distinguished among them being Petre Bogdanov-Kocko and Trajko Prokopiev.
An interesting experiment was carried out in pre-war Bitola with several renowned opera works. Lacking a sufficient number of musicians at the level required for complete opera performances, the artists undertook the staging of dramatic adaptations of Carmen, La Tosca, and In the Valley, performed as plays, but accompanied by singing, using the opera scores of Georges Bizet, Giacomo Puccini, and Eugen D'Albert.
The creative upsurge of the Macedonian artists, who from 1945 had a chance to create in their mother tongue, was naturally reflected in opera and ballet. In the first years following the war, the preconditions were created for professional opera and, later on, for professional ballet in Macedonia.
9th May 1947 was the date of the first opera premiere performed in Macedonian by the newly-established Opera Company of the Macedonian National Theatre in Skopje. Cavalleria Rusticana (or The Rural Honour) by Pietro Mascagni was staged and performed by Todor Skalovski (conductor), Branko Pomorisac (director), Petre Bogdanov-Kocko, Todor Skalovski, and Stefan Gajdov (choir-master), Liljana Kostic-Topaloska (rehearser), Stefan Gajdov and Zivko Firfov (stage manager and prompter -- an example of wonderful enthusiasm), and the vocal soloists Elisaveta Savcenko and Danka Firfova (Santuzza), Milka Gusevska (Lola), Petre Bogdanov-Kocko (Truidu), Stefan Rusjakov (Alphio), and Ganka Atanasova-Markovic (Lucia), accompanied by the Radio Symphonic Orchestra, the Radio Choir, and the Students' Choir.
Shortly after, the first Macedonian ballet made its debut. The dancing in the performance of La Traviata on 29th November 1948 was presented with such approval and applause that the same choreography by Gjorgi Makedonski is still used today (for nearly half a century!). It was followed by a ballet performance of the more extensive Walpurgisnacht (from Faust), and on 4th January 1950, the Ballet Company presented their first full-length performance, The Bahchiserai Fountain by Boris Asfajev, choreographed by Gjorgi Makedonski.
In its early years, the Opera Company of the Macedonian National Theatre undertook performances of the most beautiful works of the "steel" repertoire -- I Pagliacci by Ruggiero Leoncavallo, La Tosca by Giacomo Puccini, Orpheus and Eurydice by Cristoph Willibald Gluck, and La Traviata by Giuseppe Verdi (all conducted by Todor Skalovski), as well as Die Entfuhrung aus dem Sarail by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (conducted by Lovro Matacic), The Bartered Bride by Bedrich Smetana (conducted by Trajko Prokopiev), La Boheme by Giacomo Puccini, and Carmen by Georges Bizet. This was naturally followed by a complete "Verdiane" (works by Verdi) with the premieres of Troubadour, Rigoletto, Aida, and Un Ballo in Maschera, combined occasionally with works by Cimarosa, Tchaikovsky, Massenet, and Rossini.
An entire generation of vocal soloists was also on the rise, along with young musicians, set designers, costume designers, directors, and choreographers. Music education increasingly grew during these years through the establishment of music schools (primary, secondary, or both) in Skopje, Titov Veles, Kumanovo, Prilep, Strumica, Tetovo, Ohrid, Kocani, and Kavadarci, in turn culminating in the establishment of the High School of Music in 1966, the present-day Faculty of Music Art in Skopje within the University of Ss. Cyril and Methodius. Likewise, ballet education was organised at the level of a school, incorporated today within the Ilija Nikolovski-Luj Educational Center for Music & Ballet in Skopje.
The most distinguished in the first generation of opera singers were Petre Bogdanov-Kocko, Vasil Kjortosev, Fanka Ikonomova, Stefan Rusjakov, Vaska Bidzova-Gajdova, Tomce Grncarovski, Ana Lipsa-Tofovic, Pavlina Apostolova, Blagoja Petrov-Karagjule, Goga Trajkov, Stanko Lipsa, Maria Mircov-Skalovska, Metodija llievska-Kreola, Dimitar Marinovski, and Danco Mitrovski -- the latter subsequently an opera director. During the same period, Toma Vladimirski, Vasilie Popovic-Cico, Branko Kostovski, and somewhat later Rada Petrova created their first scenographic and costume designing works.
The first Macedonian ballet artists who appeared in the Ballet Company were Gjorgi Makedonski, Natka Penusliska-Mitrovska, Magdalena Janeva, Elpida Pakovska, Elica Popovska, Emilija Dzipunova, Toni Sulevski, Olga Milosavleva, Janka Atanasova, Vera Brangjolica, Konstantin Laskov, Boris Petkovski, Aleksandar Dobrohotov, and a few others. The Ballet Company did not lag behind the Opera Company, and staged an extensive classical repertoire, which included Coppelia by Delibes, Sleeping Beauty by Tchaikovsky, Giselle by Adam (choreography by Nina Kirsanova), Swan Lake by Tchaikovsky (choreography by Gjorgi Makedonski), Don Quixote by Minkus, and Romeo and Juliette by Prokofiev.
The further development of the Opera and Ballet Companies of the Macedonian National Theatre before and after the 1960s was promoted by the emergence of a younger generation of singers -- Nikola Gagov, Milka Eftimova, Blagoja Nikolovski, Stojan Gancev-Stojanov, Georgi Bozikov, Anastasia Dimitrova, Miomir Tasic, Anastazija Nizamova, Liljana Zendelska, Simeon Gugulovski, Mira Bunardzieva, Boris Trajanov, Slavica Petrovska-GaIic; and of ballet soloists -- Jovan Pasti, Aleksandar Stojanovic, Liljana Batalkova, Gjurgica Jovanovska, Aleksandar Hadzimanov, Ekrem Husein, Marin Crvenov, Toni Batalkov, Boris Karev, Jagoda Slaneva, Zoran Velevski, Zoica Purovska, Tanja Vuisic-Todorovska, Irina Veterova, Goran Bozinov, and Suzana Momirovska. There were also some guest artists who performed and worked in Skopje for several seasons, including Mario Gjuranec, Ana Ivanisevic, Kosta Suvakovic, Jurij Mjacin, Vera Kostic, and Ino Perisic.
The task of uniting artistic abilities for the entire opera-ballet repertoire was the duty and concern of conductors Todor Skalovski, Trajko Prokopiev, Kiril Spirovski, Angel Surev, Fimco Muratovski, Aleksandar Lekovski, Vanco Cavdarski, and Tomislav Sopov, to mention but a few.
Soon after the establishment of the Opera and Ballet Companies of the Macedonian National Theatre, the artists undertook a wonderful task -- staging and performing works by Macedonian composers. From the first Macedonian ballet, A Macedonian Story by Gligor Smokvarski (choreography by Dimitrie Parlic) in 1953 to the present day, the audience has had opportunities to enjoy performances of about 30 works by the Macedonian composers Trajko Prokopiev (Labin and Dojrana -- the first Macedonian full-length ballet), Ljubomir Brangjolica (The Metropolis Variations, War Story, Reflection, The Legend of Dubrovnik, The Constellation by Blaze Koneski), Toma Prosev (Frames and Echoes, The Song of the Songs), Aleksandar Lekovski (Strivings), Dimitrie Buzarovski (Trains), Tomislav Zografski, Blagoja Ivanovski, Vlatko Stefanovski, Bodan Arsovski, and others.
Over five decades, OIga Milosavleva has been present as a choreographer with an exceptional and large opus (Labin and Dojrana, A Reflection, Bolero, A Straussiade, Zodiac) joined, from time to time, by other former ballet dancers, such as Natka Penusliska-Mitrovska, Ekrem Husein, Marin Crvenov, Aleksandar Stojanovic, and Jagoda Slaneva.
The Macedonian National Opera Company emerged in 1954 with the performance of Goce by Kiril Makedonski, author of the operas Tsar Samuil and Ilinden. Among the Macedonian opera composers whose works have been staged and performed in the Macedonian National Theatre are also Toma Prosev (The Cobweb and The Little Prince), Trajko Prokopiev (Parting and Kuzman Kapidan), Risto Avramovski (Sick Dojcin), Dimitrie Buzarovski (The Sugar Tale, Despina and Dox), Sotir Golabovski (The Story of the Cricket and the Ants), and Blagoja Trajkov (A Furrow).
In order to complete this summary of the opera and ballet arts in Macedonia, one should not leave out an event of significant international reputation -- the May Opera Evenings, which have been held each year in Skopje since 1972 at the conception, initiative, and original organisation of Vasil Kjortosev. The May Opera Evenings is a festival for opera soloists from over 50 countries, with performances of international quality. Fifteen performances have represented the pinnacle of world opera production at the time, with performances by Nicholae Herlea, Vladislav Pjavko, Radmila Bakocevic, Zuza Misura, and Miora Cortez-David. By taking part in all performances of the May Opera Evenings despite the difficulty of the engagement, the Opera Company of the Macedonian National Theatre and, to a smaller extent, the Ballet Company, have acquired dimensions which would have otherwise taken a long time to come to fruition -- or which would never have been achieved at all.
From Macedonia Yesterday and Today by Jovan Pavlovski & Misel Pavlovski
Written by: Slavko Marinkovic
Translated by: Zaharija Pavlovska
Source of photos: http://culture.in.mk