Artists are open to the world
In early March, Bulgarians around the world are celebrating. This year, it is one hundred and twenty-nine years since this nation broke free from Turkish rule. The holiday is also commemorated by about five thousand Bulgarians living in the Czech Republic. Several hundred of them live in the Pilsen region, including Plamen Prokopiev, a prominent figure in the local community – the tenor of the JK Tyl Theater and one of the restorers of the Bulgarian Club in Pilsen.
Bulgarian club in Pilsen
From the beginning of the nineteenth century, Bulgarians came to us most often as students, workers and farmers, especially vegetable growers. At that time, there was a saying “Maka as Bulgarian” in Bohemia. Many of them found work here after 1948 and especially in the 1960s thanks to the Pilsen-based Škoda. At the beginning of the eighties, the Bulgarian Club was established in Pilsen, which is now resuming its activities. Last year, on March 3, on the occasion of the Bulgarian national holiday, he presented his first event – a gala concert at the West Bohemian Museum in Pilsen. Pianist and composer Trifon Trifonov together with Plamen Prokopiev presented the music of their homeland. Other events followed, such as a trip in the footsteps of Cyril and Methodius to Mikulčice or a concert by the chamber music of the Trio Sofia.
The Czechia stands for foreigners
Plamen Prokopiev graduated from the Academy of Music in Plovdiv with one of the most famous Bulgarian tenors Nikola Nikolov. He worked at the Free Opera Theater in Sofia, in the opera ensemble of the theater in Stara Zagora, and later became a soloist at the National Theater in Sofia. After a number of successes at international singing competitions, he left for the Czech Republic. From 1997 to 2001 he was a soloist in the opera of the JK Tyl Theater in Pilsen, he also worked at the Prague State Opera. After two years at the Slovak National Theater in Bratislava, he returned to Pilsen in 2003. With the exception of Opava and Ostrava, he sang on all Czech and Moravian opera stages. It boasts roles such as Nemorino (Drink of Love), Edgardo (Lucia of Lammermoor), Verdi’s Foresto (Attila), Duke (Rigoletto), Alfred (La Traviata), Manrico (Troubadour), Radames (Aida),
Together with his wife Nikolinka, who is also a member of the music ensemble of the KJ Tyl Theater, she is actively involved in the life of the Bulgarian community in the Czech Republic. Last year, thanks to a special government project, he and his family obtained permanent residence in the Czech Republic in a short period of time – in two and a half years. The Czech government offers such an opportunity to foreigners who are of benefit to the Czechia. Since 2003, foreigners from selected countries have been able to come to the Czech Republic, and there are one hundred and seventy-six Bulgarians among them. The project coordinators praise the cooperation with them. The Czechs themselves have good experience with their new neighbors.
At the crossroads of southern Europe
“I grew up in an opera family in Stara Zagora. Although I studied folk music at the conservatory, I liked opera singing. Since childhood, I have been surrounded by excellent singers, musicians and painters. The quality of opera and drama production in Bulgaria is high and deserves audience attention, “says Prokopiev. And when it comes to characterizing Bulgarian culture, it uses an example that Central Europeans know well from their own historical experience. “Our culture was formed at the crossroads of cultural inspirations. The influence of nearby cultures, especially Turkish and Russian, is evident in our folklore and classical music. For example, folk ensembles in Bulgaria were founded according to the Russian model. Through the development of impulses, our culture has been enriched for centuries, so today we have something to offer Europe and the world. We are patriots, we feel proud of our language, history and culture.
Bulgarians are tolerant of foreigners. As a member state of the European Union, Bulgaria has also become a destination country for migration, especially for Macedonians, Serbs and Ukrainians. But even the “richer” find their way to it – the Dutch, Japanese or English build hotels, houses and find their new home there.
From the worst out there
Plamen Prokopiev’s first meeting with Czech culture was a reading of The Good Soldier Švejk – in Bulgarian. He got acquainted with Czech music at the conservatory – he was interested in Antonín Dvořák, Leoš Janáček, but also other composers. Leaving the prestigious position of soloist at the Sofia National Theater was a step into the unknown. The journey to the Czech opera scene meant a change. “I wanted to know a new environment, new artistic practices,” he explains the reason for his former decision.
One of the biggest problems was speech. “Of course I still have problems, but I respect the Czech language and try to speak correctly. Studying Boris from Janáček’s opera Káťa Kabanová and Prince from Rusalka took me a lot of work. Singing in Czech is definitely a big bite for foreigners, but with each new title it’s better! ”
Not only communication in an unknown language, but also contact with the new audience brought difficulties. “Czech audiences are colder, less emotional, more restrained. But at the same time, he can appreciate good art, “he says.
But the life of a top artist also has its downsides. These include, for example, frequent relocations. “Children had to learn to adapt in a foreign environment. They started going to school in Bulgaria, attended a Bulgarian school in Bratislava, but here they already go to a Czech school. They learned Czech in such a way that even the Czechs themselves no longer know their origin. In terms of lifestyle and habits, they are already quite ‘cleansed’. But I’m glad they didn’t forget Bulgarian. It is interesting that now, after ten years abroad, they are starting to show more interest in Bulgarian literature than before, that they are thinking about their roots, “says Prokopiev.
The family returns home only in the summer on vacation. The work of an opera singer is time-consuming: four or five premieres of the season, tours, guest appearances… All the more pleasing to meet your mother, friends, a trip to the sea. “I have mixed feelings about our returns. It will be difficult to match the standard of living of Bulgarians with that of the older Member States of the European Union. But I believe that we have already gotten the worst of it – there is a lot of construction, business and improvement in our country, not only in tourism, “he explains.
The main thing is enough information
According to Plamen Prokopiev, what is the image of Bulgaria in the Czech media? “They mostly report about crime and other dark sides of life. For example, in early January, an well-known newspaper published an article about the looting of an archeological site in Bulgaria, which was allegedly attended by archaeologists themselves. On the other hand, the media advocated unjustly convicted Bulgarian nurses in Libya. Sometimes there is also objective information about political events and progress in economic life. We are sensitive to news from home and it makes us very happy to receive congratulations, for example, on the achievements of Bulgarian athletes. The Czechs have always been friendly to us and tried to accept us into their lives. The bridge between us may be the proximity of our languages and lifestyle. However, the most basic information about Bulgarian history and culture is often missing,
The activities of the Bulgarian Club consist mainly in acquainting Czechs with Bulgarian culture. Thanks to the connection to the pan-European organization of Bulgarians, the club has more opportunities to organize concerts, exhibitions, joint celebrations of holidays, organizing Bulgarian cultural days – the closest ones will take place in Pilsen in March. On Sunday, March 4, in the Pilsen Orthodox Church of St. Anny held a holy liturgy, the participants of which paid tribute to all those who fell for the freedom of Bulgaria. Easter is also approaching, which, by the way, “Czech” Bulgarians celebrate according to Czech and domestic traditions. This also shows that most Bulgarians are trying to adapt. The older generation still speaks Bulgarian, but some of the younger ones have already switched exclusively to Czech.
“We seldom come into contact with compatriots who come here only for work,” notes Prokopiev. “They don’t even have time to adapt. They make money on construction sites or in agriculture and return. But the Czechs do not have to be afraid of cheap labor. A total of about two million Bulgarians have emigrated to Europe, America and Australia over the centuries. There were no problems anywhere, “he emphasizes.
Plamen Prokopiev is satisfied with us. So far, he is leaving his life free, although he does not rule out a return to Bulgaria. “Maybe I’ll come back one day. I like it there. There is a mother, relatives, friends who are happy when we are doing well. It’s a bond that can’t be broken. ”
The author is a Ukrainian journalist living in the Czech Republic