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I want to sing, sing!

Bulgarian soprano Andriana Yordanova talks about her career highs and lows with Albert G. Storace

"...there is a wealth of very fine young opera singers in Bulgaria and other parts of eastern Europe. Unscrupulous impresarios and theatre managements exploit their talent to the full, then when the strain begins to tell they are left by the wayside as there are several hopefuls waiting in the wings."

"...there is a wealth of very fine young opera singers in Bulgaria and other parts of eastern Europe. Unscrupulous impresarios and theatre managements exploit their talent to the full, then when the strain begins to tell they are left by the wayside as there are several hopefuls waiting in the wings."

The first time I heard of Bulgarian soprano Andriana Yordanova was from her Maltese husband Joe Tabone, a colleague at PBS and who is often balancing engineer during recording sessions of my classical music choice for Radio Malta. He told me she had a nice voice and, not that I am a doubting Thomas, but I hoped that one day I would find out for myself. I did and was very impressed with a recital she gave some time ago at the German-Maltese Circle, after which I wondered why she had kept such a low profile. More recently she went down most favourably with me and another fellow reviewer during a recital of mostly baroque works at St Catherine's, Valletta, where she was accompanied at the harpsichord by Ramona Zammit Formosa. I wanted to know more about her career and about herself as our sole encounter after that second recital was most cursory.

Ms Yordanova strikes one as a warm and effervescent personality, always ready with peals of laughter, and which tend to become rather infectious. She is a polyglot, for besides her native Bulgarian she speaks fluent Russian, English, Italian, German and French not to mention Maltese in which she is pretty well-versed. She was born in the Black Sea port of Varna, so living in Malta and especially in Mellie?a, with a splendid view over the Gozo channel, she feels very much at home.

She had no particularly strong musical family background. Her father played the clarinet with a local band and that was it. He was a naval officer who moved to Leningrad with his young family when he went on a special, two-year course there at the end of which they moved back to Bulgaria. She was eight when they returned and her earliest education, which had begun in Leningrad continued at the Russian School in Varna. She had no particular interest in music but during her primary school years, Tarsia Lazarova, the Russian music teacher who enrolled her in the school choir, was instrumental in exposing her young pupils to concert and opera performances. She remembers rather funny things about opera, like the rubber knife Don Jose' used to "kill" Carmen in a performance of that opera. This detail could not escape her as she was sitting up front. Neither could she forget the make-up slowly melting and running down the soprano's face when she presented her with a bouquet of flowers after the performance.

Ms Lazarova gave Ms Yordanova solo parts in the choir because she was the one who first discovered that she had a voice worth nurturing. Leaving high school she did not proceed directly to any higher institution of musical learning but went to Varna University where she studied and graduated in Russian Philology. Later she studied for four years at the National Academy of Music of Sofia, one which has turned out several opera singers of worldwide fame. In the meantime things had changed in Bulgaria. After the fall of Communism, the state invested less and showed less involvement in culture in general, or rather made less of culture as a propaganda instrument.

Asked what roles she prefers to sing and which she actually managed to sing, Ms Yordanova says it is still always a question of being in the right place at the right time. It is often one without the other and things were difficult for all opera hopefuls. She did sing Musetta in Burgas in 1995, under the direction of Ivan Vulpe. In 1997 she spent six months in Rome studying at the Accademia Bulgara di Arte e Cultura, founded by the great Bulgarian singer Boris Christoff. She also took private coaching with Giannella Borelli.

Another important opportunity to further her studies came her way when she was heard by Helga Schmidt, a consultant with the Royal Opera House Covent Garden. She was encouraged to and actually obtained leave from the Accademia to go on an intensive month's course at the European Opera Centre in Manchester. She reaped the benefits of having Kostas Paskalis as director for acting, Marta Lautieri for acting and singing and Renata Scotto for vocal interpretation and Italian diction. She also worked with Kent Nagano, a director who made a great impression upon her.

There was also an opportunity for her to take part in Placido Domingo's Operalia but with Rome and Manchester behind her, Ms Yordanova had reached a cross-roads. In 1998 she won first prize in the Prof. Christo Brambarov Competition for young opera singers. She won the prize in the 20th century composers' section singing the role of Magda Sorel in Menotti's Il Console. She is very proud of the prize certificate presented to her and signed by the late Ghena Dimitrova. At that point she could have joined the second cast of a Bulgarian opera company. This would have involved flogging through repetitive repertory parts in rather stressful conditions eventually harmful to the voice. She says that there is a wealth of very fine young opera singers in Bulgaria and other parts of eastern Europe. Unscrupulous impresarios and theatre managements exploit their talent to the full, then when the strain begins to tell they are left by the wayside as there are several hopefuls waiting in the wings.

She did not want to risk that; besides with a failed early marriage behind her and a young daughter to bring up, she did not want to be separated from her child because of frequent absences on tour.

It was a very tough decision to make. She continued singing in recitals and the odd opera performance in Bulgaria. She took to the baroque repertoire for example and sings that with great pleasure although it is not her "first love" as genres go.

As to how she ended up in Malta she giggled as to what one could term a "forza del destino" but one with a happy ending. In 2001 she went to Raffina, Greece, to take part in a Mediterranean Culture Conference. "Never mind, we lost our outlet to the Aegean in 1918 but we still feel part of the Mediterranean world," she chuckled. Taking part was a delegation from Mellie?a local council. "I was invited to come to Malta and take part in a concert by Mellie?a band club, and I did".

Little did she imagine what would happen next. On that first visit she met her future husband, who is from Mellie?a and they got married in 2002. Since then she has learned a lot of Maltese, keeps up with her hobbies of petit-point and stained-glass decoration and also teaches voice technique at Masquerade.

• The Friends of the Manoel Theatre are holding an Evening with Puccini on Thursday at 7.30 p.m. Mr Storace will talk about Puccini's operas and Ms Yordanova will sing a number of illustrative arias covering most of Puccini's operatic output. Tickets for the event, which is followed by a reception, may be obtained from the Manoel Theatre booking office.
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