Macedonian Ballet & Opera

Ballet and opera in Macedonia

Ballet performance

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.

Ballet actors

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.