It was for a place in the company of the Wiener Volksoper that Petar Naydenov came to Vienna from a theatre in Bavaria eight years ago. “There were so many opportunities here for opera singers, and just a one-hour flight from home,” he remembered. There he met brilliant colleagues and visiting professionals, and went through very intense rehearsals for numerous productions. Trained in the Belcanto tradition and specializing in Italian roles, In Vienna Naydenov expanded into the German and 20th century repertoire. And, he said laughing, “I learned something about discipline.”
Then three years later, he decided to go freelance. “Freedom, Sancho, is one of the most precious gifts…” he told me, quoting Cervantes. “But it is not what is called the ‘easy life.’” Freelance opera singers have to travel and live for weeks or sometimes months away from their families. “It is a lonely feeling going to the premiere, then to the after party and return to the hotel room always alone,” he said, “not to be able to share this emotion with your nearest and dearest.” Then, the next day, he would read the critics, his hands trembling, and talk to his children over Whatsapp…
“Still, it’s the most thrilling emotion to go deep into a role like Fillip II or Mephistopheles, to imagine them in your own body, to give them your own face and gestures, your own truth…” he said. “Yes, this is the sweetness and bitterness of being a freelancer.”
A talented and successful Bulgarian opera basso, Naydenov is known for his powerful stage presence and the beauty and warmness of his voice, which have made him one of the leading basses in Vienna. Born in the south of Bulgaria, Naydenov graduated from the National Music Academy in Sofia continuing his studies with Nicola Giuzelev and Ghena Dimitrova. He debuted as Don Giovanni and was a guest with Tel Aviv Opera, Theater St. Gallen, Cairo Opera, Grand Théâtre de Tours, National Opera Helsinki, Oper Graz, Opera Triest, the Malmö Opera, and Opera Bergen. His battle-horse-roles Filippo II, Gremin, Fiesco, Zaccaria and Don Giovanni, have received particularly high praise.
All this suddenly came to a stop a year ago with the COVID pandemic, when freelance stage artists lost most of their upcoming contracts.
“It is a difficult time, almost like being at war,” Naydenov says, “and there are only two ways ahead: despair or creativity.” And by creativity he does not mean the living-room concert in slippers and mobile camera. “No! I am against this trend, which changes the live connection between the actor and his audience.
“I miss the stage terribly, but now we have time to rethink and redesign our professional path, make some corrections. One has to stay positive.” To keep up his spirits, he likes to go to the family’s holiday house with his wife and children “who also need my support and understanding.” And he turns to his hobbies – photography, painting and fishing, and fulfilling a long-held dream to become a bee-keeper. “Bees are taking a lot of my time now, I have four colonies,” he said, laughing. “It is an amazing open-air activity and a rewarding feeling to do what is right for the natural world.“
While Naydenov feels comfortable in Vienna, there are still powerful things linking him to his native country – his parents, certainly, but also the stage of his home theatre Sofia Opera. “This was where I started, where I go back constantly and where I feel most comfortable,” he said. The welcoming atmosphere and “the caring people who have known me almost from my childhood…” It’s a “very, very emotional” thing every time he returns!
For Bulgarians, their opera stars are something like a national label – a professional company of excellence, whose métier traditionally take them abroad. Vienna with its prestigious opera houses, its rich cultural life and history, has long been a magnet for these exceptional people for whom it often becomes a base for their future forays across the international opera world.