The Ivan Vazov National Theatre (Bulgarian: Народен театър „Иван Вазов) is Bulgaria’s national theatre, as well as the oldest and most authoritative theatre in the country and one of the important landmarks of Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria. It is located in the centre of the city, with the facade facing the City Garden.
National Theater Ivan Vazava is the most authoritative theater in Bulgaria after the Liberation, he is the successor of metropolitan drama group “Tear and Laughter”, which in 1904 was transformed into the Bulgarian National Theater, from 1906 to 1952 – the National theater, in the years 1952-62 was called the National theater Krstyu Sarafovo, in the future, in 1962 – 77 years and since 1982 all the time – National theater Ivan Vazava.
National Theater Ivan Vazava is located in a luxurious purpose-built theater building at ul. Ignatius deacon, b. 5, Sofia 1000 (Bulgaria).
The theater building was erected in 1906, designed by Office Fellner & Helmer. The construction has undergone several fires, but each time it was rebuilt.
Currently, Sophia National Theater has advanced equipment and a large stage with 750 seats, and a chamber hall with 120 seats and a stage on the fourth floor with 70 seats for spectators.
Currently, the theater director is Pavel Vasin (Bulgarian:.: Paul Vasey).
The theater building
By order of July 14, 1903, Minister Dr. Yves. D. Shishmanov appoints a committee headed by Mr. Ilia Milarov to prepare a proposal for the construction of a building for the National Theater in Sofia. The National Assembly made a decision and by decree of Prince Ferdinand I alienated the terrain at the place of the former boarding house “Osnova”, where in June 1904 the building of the building started by the design of the Viennese architects Ferdinand Felner and Hermann Helmer. The picturesque layout of the ceiling and the walls of the auditorium, which has 848 seats, was commissioned by the famous Viennese artist Rudolf Fuchs. The National Theater opens its doors on January 3, 1907 with a special performance. Before the grand opening, many students whistlePrince Ferdinand I and by decree decided to close Sofia University for six months.
On February 10, 1923, during the jubilee performance “The Apotheosis of Native Dramatic Art”, a fire broke out, destroying the theater. Since the beginning of the new season, the troupe has been divided into two parts in different cities of Bulgaria, and then for six years – on the stage of the specially renovated Free Theater in Sofia.
The building of the National Theater was reconstructed in the period 1924 – 1928 by the project of the German architect Martin Dulfer and the Bulgarian civil engineer, graduated in Munich, Kiril Chaparov. In addition to the construction of the new reinforced concrete structure, stage mechanization was produced from Germany, produced by the companies Krupp and MAN, as have only the best theaters in the European metropolises. This technique works from 1929 to the present day, being used in all performances on the Grand Stage of the theater.
During the bombing of Sofia during World War II, the southern wing of the theater was destroyed. After the war, the building was rebuilt and in April 1945 the National Theater reopened its doors to the public. The last reconstruction and restoration was carried out in 1972 – 1975 under the direction of Prof. Eng. Venelin Venkov, when a special chamber scene was being built. The overall decoration is the work of the artists Dechko Uzunov, Georgi Chapkanov and Ivan Kirkov, who is also the author of the theater curtain – the extinguishing Phoenix.
“Ivan Vazov” National Theatre is the earliest and the most authoritative of Bulgarian stages, having a rich history, firmly anchored in its traditions, with a commanding and protean presence in the modernity of the present. The theatre offers a broad repertoire of both contemporary and classical plays appealing to the widest possible range of audiences.
Special attention is devoted to the development of national playwriting and at the same time the three stages of the National Theatre are open to all innovative and noteworthy creative endeavours.
1904 – 1944
In 1904, Minister of Education Prof. Ivan Shishmanov, a prominent figure, who studied in Austria, Germany and Switzerland, transformed at the request of and urged by the most influential representatives of Bulgarian culture the privately owned A Tear and Laughter theatre company into a state-run institution named National Theatre. The construction of the new national theatre began right in the heart of Sofia, on the site of the obsolete Osnova (Foundation) wooden playhouse.
The National Theatre has an impressive more than a century-long history. Becoming the centre of Bulgaria’s cultural life, the place keeps in its memory the triumphs of the greatest Bulgarian directors and actors on its stage; the work of the national poets and writes who have contributed to the theatre over the years.
Such remarkable actors and actresses as Vasil Kirkov, Adriana Budevska, Krustio Sarafov, Atanas Kirchev, Vera Ignatieva, Zlatina Nedeva, Ivan Popov, Geno Kirov, Elena Snezhina, Theodorina Stoicheva were among the founders of the creative company of the National Theatre. They formed the so-called First Generation of stars of Bulgaria’s leading company showcasing a variety of brilliant talent both in the classical repertoire and in the productions of Bulgarian plays, establishing a school that started the best Bulgarian acting traditions. Poet Pencho Slaveikov in his capacity of the theatre’s director and later, such renowned figures as poets Peyo Yavorov, Nikolay Liliev, Geo Milev and director Nikolay Massalitinov have made an outstanding contribution to the shaping of the creative nature of the theatre. It was these intellectuals of considerable accomplishments who moulded the National Theatre from a magnificent and remarkable building in the heart of Sofia into ‘a big school for all, accessible to all strata of society, ages and minds’ as Ivan Vazov put it.
It is no wonder that the National Theatre bears the name of Bulgaria’s great national writer and poet Ivan Vazov (1850–1921), whose historical dramas and tragedies and brilliant comedies contributed to build and develop a broad and inclusive repertoire of Bulgaria’s leading company. Apart from devotedly contributing as a playwright, Ivan Vazov was also one of the keenest theatregoers. Until the very end of his life he had a permanently reserved seat in the second row of the front stalls, preserved until this day and marked with a commemorative tablet ‘Ivan Vazov’s seat’.
The building of the National Theatre was finished in 1906 and the opening ceremony was held on 3 January 1907. It was designed by the architects Ferdinand Fellner and Hermann Helmer, who were hugely popular in the early twentieth century, to become one of Sofia’s most imposing and representative buildings in the Art Nouveau style, which was all the rage in those days. The plafond and the walls of the auditorium seating 848 were painted by artist Rudolf Fuchs from Vienna.
The plays are set by Ivan Popov and the Croatian Srdjan Tutsic, and later the prominent Czech actor Josef Schmaha, who becomes the director and artistic director of the theater, is invited. Apart from him, the directors include Geno Kirov, Pencho Slaveikov, PK Yavorov, Hristo Ganchev, Pavel Ivanovski, Sava Ognyanov.
After the first steps of the National Theater, a process of increased interest of Bulgarian writers in the performing arts began. Some of the most significant works that have become classic for Bulgarian dramaturgy are being created: a stage version of ” Under the Yoke ” and “The Queen of Kazalars” by Ivan Vazov, “The Vampire” and “Over the Crossless Tombs” by Anton Strashimirov, “Boyan the Magician” by Kiril Hristov, The Men’s Frost by St. L. Kostov, ” At the Foot of Vitosha ” by PK Yavorovand others. The institution Artistic Secretary and Artistic Council of the Theater, directly responsible for the relationship with the authors, is created. Plays are being produced by both the world classical playwrights and by the most important contemporary European authors – Strindberg, Ibsen, Chekhov.
Directors include Krustyo Sarafov, Stoyan Buchvarov, Vasil Kirkov, Geo Milev, Georgi Stamatov. This period is distinguished by the leading role of the cast in the performances. Fierce discussions are constantly going on in the press about the repertoire, the directing or its absence, and the chronic crises of theater management.
At the end of the second decade of the twentieth century, the institutional and artistic construction of the National Theater, its gradual professionalization, was comparable to the Balkan and to some extent pan-European theatrical process. With the death of Ivan Vazov in 1922, the period of construction of the National Theater as the main cultural institute of Bulgaria ended.
In early 1923, fire broke out in the theatre during a performance, engulfing the stage, part of the auditorium and the cloakroom. The company of the National Theatre moved to play at Svoboden Teatur and went on many tours of the country.
After the theater burned down in 1923, the troupe stayed in the countryside for a while, but returned to Sofia in the late fall and played on the Free Theater for six years. The well-known literary critic and editor of Zlatorog Magazine Vladimir Vasilev has been appointed as a director, who invites Andrei Protich, St. L. Kostov and Sirak Skitnik. New artists have been appointed, including Lyubomir Zolotovich, Ivan Dimov, Petya Gerganova, and not long after, the young Zorka Yordanova, Boris Ganchev, Konstantin Kisimov, Mara Penkova, Olga Kircheva, Marta Popova, Georgi Gromov, Boris Borozanov, Vladimir Trandafilov and others. Actor Hrisan Tsankov, who studied in Moscow and Berlin with Max Reinhardt, has been appointed Artistic Secretary. Soon he began to direct as a director, and as a playwright the great poet Nikolay Liliev was involved. In 1925 the Russian director NO Masalitinov was appointed as the director, proposing to open a Drama School at the National Theater. It includes not only all young artists and interns, but also award-winning stars like Kr. Sarafov and G. Stamatov. Already with its first production of Shakespeare ‘s Twelfth Night, which is welcomed as a real theatrical holiday, Masalitinovshows that professionalism will increasingly conquer the theater in the future. Until the end of the Second World War, a kind of aesthetic duel was conducted on the stage of the National Theater between Hrisan Tsankov, who defined the director as an “author” and with whom the conditionality, stylization, expression and demand for synthesis prevailed, and the “classic” NO Masalitinov with its realistic, psychological theater, where the directing is woven into the text and hidden in acting. This is the period during which such plays as “Masters” by R. Stoyanov, “Golemanov” and “Enemy” by St. L. Kostov, “Masonry” by P. Yu. Todorov, “Albena” and “Boryana” by Y. Yovkov, “Mother-in-law” by A. Strashimirov and others.
Some of the most significant figures of this period are the directors Hristo Tsankov – Derizhan, Prof. Mikhail Arnaudov, Vladimir Polyanov, the playwrights Prof. Alexander Balabanov, Dimitar Podzavachov, Theodor Trayanov, the directors Yosif Osipov, Yuriy Yakovlevnikov, Artur Mikhailovski, and Artists Borisov Alexander Bozhinov, Ivan Penkov.
In 1929, the building reopened following a reconstructed by German architect Martin Dülfer. It was fully modernised, the stage was equipped with state-of-the-art technical systems that only two or three theatres across Europe boasted at thе time. The auditorium seated 1,236.
In 1943, a National Theater School was established at the National Theater. The lecturers are the principal director NO Masalitinov and the artists G. Stamatov, Vl. Trandafilov, P. Atanasov. The school marks the beginning of vocational theater education in Bulgaria. In 1948 it was transformed into the State Higher Theater School and separated from the National Theater as an independent institution, which in 1956 is now called the Krustyo Sarafov VITIZ.
1944 – 1989
The political change of 9 September 1944 reflected, of course, on the overall artistic appearance of the National Theater. A “purge” was carried out in the theater management, and Hrisan Tsankov was removed. In addition to NO Masalitinov, the director’s board includes the young hopes Stefan Sarchadzhiev, Krustyo Mirski, Mois Benesh. In 1947, Boyan Danowski was appointed director. Director Philip Filipov has his first premiere, which for many years will determine the artistic appearance of the theater. The structure of the repertoire has completely changed, for some time contemporary European authors have disappeared from it, with numerous Russian and Soviet plays and some minor Bulgarian works. Realism conquers the scene. The introduction of the Stanislavsky system became a prerequisite for the method of socialist realism, which officially declared itself the only possible aesthetic and ideological artistic principle.
In the air raid of Sofia of 10 January 1944, part of the auditorium was destroyed along with some of the adjacent rooms and the entire south wing down to the stage itself. The company was evacuated to the small mountain town of Pirdop to return to Sofia later that year, giving performances at Balkan playhouse until the reconstruction of the National Theatre in 1949.
Despite political scrutiny and the pursuit of the art of being subject to the dogma of a narrow political framework, productions of high artistic level were created at the National Theater after 1944. Among them are “The Diary of Annie Frank” with director M. Benes, ” Cyrano de Bergerac ” with director St. Sarchadzhiev, Ivan Shishman with N. Lyutskanov, “And his Wiseest is a Little Simple” with F. Filipov, Maria Stewart with Kr. Mirski, “Flying Attempt” with dir. Kiselov, “Last Deadline” with director Kr. Azaryan et al.
The theater continues to be very strong acting troupe, which in addition to veterans of previous years, leading figures already and Ruzha Delcheva, Magda Kolchakova, Irina Tasseva, Ivanka Ivanova, Margarita Duparinova, Slavka Slavova, Mila Pavlova, Andrey Chaprazov, Rachko Yabandzhiev, Assen Milanov, Georgi Radanov, Spas Dzhonev, Apostle Karamatev, Jordan Matev, Stefan Getsov, Lyubomir Kabakchiev, Leo Conforti, Georgi Georgiev – Getz and many other talented artists.
In different years, the directors invited from abroad were staged at the National Theater:
Rasa Plaowicz and Arsa Jovanovic (SFRY), Boris Babochkin (USSR), Takis Muzenidis (Greece), Jacek Voscherovich (Poland), Boris Livanov and Boris Zahava (USSR), Clifford Williams (UK), Andrey Goncharev, Oleg Goncharev, Oleg Goncharev (USSR), Brako Plesha (SFRY).
In 1972–1976, the building underwent a full-scale reconstruction led by Bulgarian architect Ivan Tomov and artists Zlatka Kozhuharova, retaining its original form as designed and constructed by Fellner and Helmer in 1907. The chamber hall seating 120 and an underground scene dock were completed. The auditorium, lobbies, foyers and the pediment over the central entrance were rendered quake-resistant using in-situ reinforced concrete structures designed to withstand an earthquake of 9.0 on the Richter scale.
The reconstructed building had state-of-the-art technical facilities and stage equipment. The auditorium seated 780. The unique tapestry of the front-of-house curtain was designed by artists Ivan Kirkov and Angel Peichev; the plafond and the walls of the house were repainted by such renowned Bulgarian painters as Dechko Ouzounov and Ivan Kirkov.
1989 – 2019
In early 1989, the introduction of the so-called “contract system” was being prepared. The crisis of late 1989 and early 1990 was also felt in the theater. The Artistic Council, which was tasked with legalizing the performances, fell apart. The National Theater is perceived as a symbol of the official socialist culture and is subject to the strongest blows. Diko Fuchedzhiev, the director at that time, also retired from the beginning of the new season in 1990-1991.
The theater takes under its roof the experimental theater TR “Sfumato” and its directors Margarita Mladenova and Ivan Dobchev become part of the theater. The directors are Leon Leon, Krikor Azarian, Krasimir Spasov. “The Fireplace” by M. Minkov and “The Last Krap Tape” by S. Beckett, directed by Krikor Azaryan, “The Price” by A. Miller, directed by L. Daniel, “Vasa Zheleznova – 1910” by M. Gorky, dir.. Kr. Spasov, “Remembering a Revolution” by Buchner and Müller and “Easter Wine” by K. Iliev with director Iv. Dobchev, “Lorenzacho” by Al. De Mousse, “At the Foot of Vitosha” by PK Yavorov and “Nirvana” by K. Iliev with director M. Mladenova are among the strongest theatrical achievements, not only within the repertoire at the National Theater. Lorenzacho was selected for a performance of the 1991/1992 season.
In early 1993, director Alexander Morfov was appointed. His first Don Quixote performance on Cervantes was selected among the performances of the season. It creates a new image of the theater and introduces a new, young audience to its halls. Morphov’s performances overturn and parody the well-known pretentious interpretations of the classics. The appearance of Morphov effectively and spectacularly symbolizes the radical alienation of the theater from its past. The picture of the performances from this period is a collage of postmodernist attempts, of the reanimated directing of the sign, of modernist interpretations. Parody, irony, resignation mark the stage world for most of them. Perhaps most symptomatic in this respect is the performance of Alexander Morfov’s “Bottom” by Maxim Gorky.
Towards the end of the 1990s Prof. V. Stefanov left. In the beginning of 2000 Alexander Morfov became the artistic director of the National Theater and Pavel Vasev became the administrative director. Not long after, P. Vasev first, and later Morfov left. On the eve of the centenary of the National Theater in 2003, Professor Vasil Stefanov took over the leadership again. Following is another full term of Pavel Vasev as director, after which Alexander Morfov was temporarily appointed. He retained the post from January to September 2015, resigning over planned changes in the budgeting of theaters that do not take into account the status of the theater of a national cultural institute of national importance. The interim director is Militsa Traykova (long-term deputy director of financial affairs). Alexander Morfov is the director and director of artistic policy.On the Edge, ” Life is Wonderful ” by N. Erdman, ” Flight over the Cuckoo’s Nest ” by Ken Kissi, ” Don Juan ” by Moliere, ” Hashes ” by Ivan Vazov – are among the titles that attract the most audiences in the theater. Since the summer of 2016, the director of the National Theater has been actor Marius Donkin.
Among the most successful performances of the last two decades on the Big Stage are also “King Lear” by W. Shakespeare, production by Yavor Gerdev, ” Pygmalion ” by B. Shaw in the production of Leon Daniel, ” Cherry Garden ” by A.P. Chekhov, production of Krikor Azaryan, velor jacket by St. Stratiev, a play by Boyko Bogdanov, ” The Perfect Man ” by O. Wild and “The Ball of Thieves” by J. Anui, staged by Thierry Arkur.
Many of the performances have a long life, including ” Mr. Ibrahim and the Qur’an’s Flowers ” by E.-E. Schmidt, production of SN. Tankovska with over 150 performances, Double Bass with over 200, Hash with over 250.
The Ivan Vazov National Theater has three scenes – a large stage with 860 seats, a chamber scene with 130 seats and a stage on the IV floor, which receives 90 spectators. The troupe performs between 8 and 10 premieres per theater season. On its stage play actors like Yordanka Kuzmanova, Anya Pencheva, Stefan Danailov, Reni Vrangov, Stoyan Alexiev, Valentin Ganev, Valentin Tanev, Nikolay Urumov, Anna Papadopoulou, George Mamalev, Joreta Nikolova, Dejan Donkov, Zachary Baharov, Marin Yanev,Marius Donkin, Maria Kavardzhikova, Mikhail Petrov and others.
The National Theater maintains a rich repertoire of contemporary and classic titles, focused on the interest and attention of the general public.
As a result of democratic changes, the theater has established lasting relationships with the stages in other European countries. He has participated in the BITF Theatrical Festivals, the Bonn Biennale New Pieces from Europe, NET (Moscow), the European National Theaters Festival in Warsaw and many others.
Presently, the National Theatre is the most significant and representative Bulgarian theatrical institution with its three stages, a permanent theatre company and a rich repertoire staging ten or so premieres per season.
Currently, the National Theatre has a main auditorium accommodating 780 people and advanced stage equipment; a chamber hall seating 120 and a stage on the fourth floor with a seating capacity of 90.