I attended her solo concert at Hall 1 of the National Palace of Culture in 2016. It was full. She sang arias from her roles on the world stages. For each of them she wore a different dress that turned her into a shining point on the stage. The performances were amazing and breathtaking. I do not remember how much time I spent enjoying the music and how much – pondering on how complex singing is and how did she become a singer of such high rank. I also thought of the tension she probably felt from the audience’s great expectation. I also thought of the responsibility to be always on top level, though the instrument (the voice) is natural not physical. And if something happens to this instrument, no one can reach from behind and hand you a new one. How does she take care of such thing and does she depend on it.
The concert ended.
I was with Teodora Duhovnikova. As we left the Hall, we sat on the stairs in the corridor. We were stunned. We looked at each other and almost simultaneously said that we – the actors – are lame and lazy, and we have it the easiest. Ballet dancers, musicians, opera singers spend hours every day rehearsing and maintaining their shape. We do nothing. Well, I do not eat everything I would want to, so I will not gain weight, but everyone who cares at least a little for his/her health and looks does it. In short, we both got very depressed. I felt like a loafer. Since then I really wanted to talk with Alexandrina, to find out how she has achieved all peaks in her career. After some time, we happened to meet at a party and we talked. As any very talented and successful person, she is of light nature, down to earth and real. She does not show off with anything. Most ordinary, very nice person.
When Glenfiddich’s proposal for “Chasing Mavericks” project came, I immediately thought she would be the first of my mavericks to talk about especially here. Gigi (as they call her) is a real inspiration for me and she makes me dream. I called her and she agreed. The idea of photos of her was large-scale – I wanted to have lots of space, breadth, I wanted to photograph her in wheat fields. I had chosen some very beautiful, matte-golden wheat fields. That was how I imagined her, in this wide space, like standing before the big World. It would have turned out great photo session but it rained for several days in a row. I admit, a weight was lifted off my shoulders and the rain saved me. I was relieved because I had to take her to that place, which was outside Sofia. I was constantly thinking that for a few hours I would be responsible for this woman. If I crashed the car, if she fell and broke her leg down that field, if she caught a cold in the rain and lost her voice forever… Then I and my desire to shoot her would be to blame for the accident of a world star. And then what, I would tell her “I am sorry”? So I felt very relieved when it turned out I would not be responsible for her. We met at her place, we talked for long, took some photos and it turned out great.
Undoubtedly, talent is very important, but much more important is to learn to develop it, to keep it and realise it. It is something we get from above – we do not control it. But everything else depends on us. Alexandrina Pendatchanska was born in a family (rather a clan) of musicians. She always knew she could sing, she was rather surprised how other people could not sing. She dreamed of making magic (like every child). Mother – opera singer, father – musician, grandfather – concertmaster, grandmother – pianist and teacher, aunt – pianist. And all of them – in one house. That is what people call a foretold destiny. Her grandmother took her to an exam in the first experimental class of the Music School. In this class, for the first time, they would enrol several children at the age of five. The exam was to see if the little children were musical, no one expected too much of them. But her grandmother told the committee that her granddaughter could sing very well. At that time her mother started a big career in the Plovdiv Opera and constantly rehearsed her new roles in the bathroom (the only free space in the house). Little Alexandrina hated the roles with her mother dying, she called them “deathings”. But along with the “deathings”, the opera singer got a different role – Rosalinda in “The Bat”, operetta by Johann Strauss Jr. Everything there was colourful, funny and high. The little future star terribly liked this and learned the role for the exam. However, the committee wanted her to sing a part from “La Traviata”. Alexandrina agreed but on one condition – to have a glass for the final toast, and then to sing Rosalinda. The performance brought a real furore, and Gigi was absolutely admitted to the Music School and started studying piano and solfeggio. Years of daily piano practices followed, while the children outside were playing hide-and-seek. In the short breaks from exercises, she was looking outside to see how everyone was entertaining with games and funs. She wanted very much to be a ballerina as well. She had qualities for that too, but her father explicitly stopped her. Since she definitely realised she would be neither the white swan nor the black swan, since she felt the difficulty of the piano, and the stage and the roles still excited her, logically she turned to opera singing. Despite her parents’ appeals to continue with the piano, in case she did not have the right voice, she absolutely knew she would have a voice. Provoked by those fears of her parents, she began searching for the opera sound on her own. Shortly after, at the age of 12, the “magic” started happening. Her natural vocal intuition helped her to begin singing with an opera sound. In the 6th grade she took the courage and asked her mother to hear her. She took the cassette player and played a pre-recorded singing of hers. Her mother expected a piano performance. Instead, it was “Aida”, then followed “La Traviata”. Valerie was moved to tears and everything was clear. Alexandrina took her first singing lesson at the age of 15 in Plovdiv from her mother and the great Bulgarian conductor Mihail Angelov – her only teachers.
When Alexandrina was in the 11th grade and it happened so that at that time the opera prima Gena Dimitrova had a master class in Sofia again, she wanted to audition, though she was 10 years younger than the other candidates. Gena Dimitrova was impressed with the young girl’s singing talent and thus Alexandrina made her debut in the National Palace of Culture with “La Traviata” – at the age of only 17 in 1988 with the role of Violetta. Then fate intervened too, because right after the concert she went to the Czech Republic and won the first prize at a prestigious competition. At the same time, after a big football game, the concert in the National Palace of Culture was broadcasted on Bulgarian television, on the only TV channel. In this way, the entire country watched the young opera sensation. Returning from the Czech Republic, right at the airport, she realised she had become a star. She graduated the Music School, entered the Conservatory as a star and after a year she left it. At that time she was already singing on the stage of the Sofia Opera, unthinkable till then without a diploma from the Conservatory. She decided to leave the Conservatory because her engagements were many and permanent. She very quickly became a star and at a tender age experienced the glory, touched it and overcame it.
She began to travel, won many competitions and auditions. Thus, easy and subtly, she started conquering the world. She became a cosmopolitan person. But the more experience she gathered, the greater the audience’s expectations and the responsibility became. Few people realise that it is hard to reach the top but it is even harder to stay there. She had sung on the most prestigious opera stages in the world. Vienna, Paris, Berlin, New York, Rome, Brussels, Washington, Hamburg, Moscow, Turin, Naples, Santa Fe, Bregenz, Monte Carlo, Tel Aviv, Houston, Lisbon… it is a long list. Over 70 roles. Many femme fatales have passed through her creative life, she has co-lived each one of them, and when the time has come she has let them go. Few months ago she told about herself in “This is me” – about her three decades on the stage.
She is one of the artists who know her engagements 5 years ahead. She has accepted this lifestyle and does not resist it. She loves to live at night, she is a night bird. However, to restore her voice, she tries to sleep over 8 hours, especially before a heavy show. When she has free time she likes to walk on the small streets of Paris and observe people, analyse them.
I shared with her my belief that actors are most lazy and they have it the easiest. She jumped against me and started persuading me to the contrary. Her analysis was interesting. I listened to her carefully. In her opinion, it is most difficult for us, the actors, because our talent is easiest to spot by the people. All viewers very easily sense with their intuition if the actors recreate life authentically and truthfully. Because the more talented an actor is the more truthfully he/she recreates the emotions of the character. An ordinary viewer cannot sense a bad singer so easily. He/she needs a good ear, hours spent in the opera, in order to begin to distinguish the good singer from the not so good one. I agreed with her, only for a moment. Then I told myself that you cannot compare her singing, her presence, her care for her talent, with me and what I do, for example. I take care only to not gain weight. Everything else just comes and I do not put efforts into it. The more you grow the more times life brings you difficulties, and you use this to make a certain role. For me this is simple. What she does is terribly complex.
And again I remembered how we were sitting in Hall 1 and listening to her. She changed dress after dress, she sang and looked like an angel, she made magic after magic with an ease. This is not by chance, someone up there had especially taken care of her.
Gigi Pendatchanska is a good reason to think about our talent, our magic – to try to find it and realise it. Everything is possible and it depends on us, everything is in our hands.
There is something incredible in life – the fact that every person can turn it into a beautiful fairytale, in which he/she reaches the limits of his/her goals. The little girl who secretly sang the great arias proves it. And she makes magic on stage to this day. And she will continue in the future too.
With the support of Glenfiddich Whisky
Text – Vladimir Karamazov
Photographer – Vladimir Karamazov for #Karamazovfoto
See the entire project Mission Maverick
09.10.2018 Vladimir Karamazov®