Verdi’s Rigoletto at Belgrade National Theatre

Belgrade National Theatre – Perspectiv

Last night I attended Rigoletto at Belgrade National Theatre. The Belgrade Philharmonic Orchestra accompanied the opera. Rigoletto has appeared at the National Theater many times. It premiered in 2001 with soloists from Teatro Alla Scala Milan.

Rigoletto Cast Left to Right – Assassin Sparafucile, Duke of Mantua, Gilda, Rigoletto, Maddalena Sparafucile’s Sister, Countess Ceprano

It’s my third performance at the National Theatre. As with the other performances, it was sold out. I arrived 20 minutes early to an empty house. Five minutes before the performance began, the theater filled quickly.

Serbians are friendly but you must make the first attempt to communicate. If someone approaches you, they’re often openly taken aback if you don’t speak Serbian.

Opera, ballet, and classical music are popular in Belgrade. Drama is also in high demand and there are many theaters – performances are in Serbian.

Belgrade National Theatre Ceiling – Maximilian Böhm


Rigoletto is sometimes described as an “exciting and gritty opera not for the faint-heated” … If you like drama, Rigoletto has few rivals – heart-wrenching tragedy and human emotions are well portrayed!

National Theatre Ceiling

The programs and supertitles were in Serbian. I found limited information about the singers online. With a basic understanding of the plot, the incredible voices describe what’s going on during an opera.

Gabrijela Ubavic Soprano (Gilda) – Newtiers

The original title, La Maledizione (The Curse), refers to “a curse placed on the Duke of Mantua and Rigoletto (his hunchbacked court jester) by Count Monterone, a courtier whose daughter the Duke seduced with help from Rigoletto”. The curse materializes when Rigoletto’s daughter Gilda falls in love with the philandering Duke and sacrifices her life to save him from Sparafucile, an assassin hired by her father”.

Soprano Gabrijela Ubavic made a guest appearance as Gilda. She has an extraordinary voice! Her first “major international success” was in 2010 singing the role of Pamina in Mozart’s The Magic Flute. Since then, she’s received considerable recognition and won many awards.

Belgrade National Theatre – Narodno Pozoriste

I found a list of the opera’s cast from earlier productions but not the names of singers during last night’s performance. At any rate, it was a rousing production and an evening thoroughly enjoyed!

Barber of Seville and Lady of the Camellias Sarajevo

Boston Ballet – BosGuy

The Barber of SevilleCancelled

Sarajevo’s Opera and Philharmonic were set to perform The Barber of Seville on Tuesday night. Written by Italian composer Gioachino Rossini the popular comic opera first appeared in Sarajevo in 1948 with repeat performances over the years.

Co-produced with the Italian Embassy the opera is based on a play by French playwright Pierre Beaumarchais. The performance got cancelled with short notice when the lead vocalist developed laryngitis.

Marie Duplessis Alexandre Dumas’ Lover – Kinuko Y. Craft

The Lady of the Camellias Ballet – aka Camille

Thursday night Sarajevo Ballet performed The Lady of the Camellias at the National Theater. Written by American choreographer and producer John Neumeier the Sarajevo Philharmonic Orchestra accompanied the ballet with choreography by Russian Vasili Medvedev and Frédéric Chopin’s music.

Background and Plot

John Neumeier’s ballet is based on Alexandre Dumas’ novel La Dame aux Camellias written in 1848. In 1852 a play of the same name premiered in Paris and was “an instant success”. Giuseppe Verdi put Dumas’ tragic story to music creating the opera La Traviata, with female protagonist Marguerite Gautier renamed Violetta Valéry.

Italian Composer Giacomo Puccini –

Inspired by Verdi’s La Traviata, in 1978 Neumeier created a ballet using the same tragic theme with music by Frederic Chopin. His ballet is the story of a couple who meet in Paris at a performance of Puccini’s Manon Lescaut. This is significant because Manon Lescaut characters are similar to those in Neumeier’s ballet.

Armand and Marguerite The Lady of the Camellias – Ooppera Baletti

The title role, Marguerite Gautier, is based on Marie Duplessis, the real-life lover of Alexandre Dumas. Set in mid-19th-century France, it’s a tragic love story between fictional characters. The female protagonist, Marguerite, is a famous rococo courtesan with terminal consumption. Armand Duval, a young bourgeois aristocrat, meets her in Paris and falls in love.

La Dame aux Carmelias Poster –


The ballet takes place after Marguerite’s death at an auction of the furnishings in her “luxurious Paris apartment”. The story evolves as a “series of memories” recalled by several people:

  • Nanina – Marguerite’s loyal servant
  • Armand Duval – Marguerite’s lover
  • Monsieur Duval – Armand’s father

Vasily Medvedev Russian Choreographer

Act I

Carrying Marguerite’s diary, Nanina says farewell to the Paris apartment. Among those at the auction is Monsieur Duval, whose son Armand “rushes in frantically overcome by his memories and emotions”. Armand tells his story about meeting Marguerite in Paris at a performance of Manon Lescaut and falling in love with her

Sarajevo National Theatre – Wikimedia

Aware of her fatal illness Marguerite needs the comforts of luxury provided by wealthy Dukes and Counts. She’s attracted to Armand and they enjoy a “series of adventures” in and around Paris. For the benefit of her other admirers Marguerite “insists their affair remain secret”.

Frédéric Chopin Polish Composer and Pianist – WRTI


“While Marguerite continues her hectic life, hastening from ball to ball, from one ardent admirer to the next, from an old Duke to a young Count, Armand is always there — waiting for her.”


Sarajevo Ballet Cast

Act II

As time passes Marguerite acknowledges her love for Armand. They move to the countryside and are finally together while she regains her health.

Monsieur Duval visits Marguerite to insist that living with a prostitute will “ruin his son”. Marguerite protests but realizes the truth of Monsieur Duval’s accusations. She “gives in to his demands and out of deep and sincere love” leaves Armand.

Alexandre Dumas French Writer – Smithsonian American Art Museum

Unbelieving, Armand follows Marguerite to Paris and finds her in the arms of the Duke. He takes revenge by flirting with a beautiful young courtesan, Olympia.

“Deathly ill, Marguerite visits Armand begging him not to hurt her by flaunting his affair with Olympia. Their passion ignites once more, but she remembers her promise to his father and leaves Armand a second time.”

Armand publicly humiliates Marguerite at a grand ball, by handing her money as payment for past services. She collapses.

John Neumeier American Choreographer, Dancer, Director – Nationale Opera and Ballet


Armand reaches the end of his story. Rejected because of her past, his beloved Marguerite dies alone. He will never see her again. Deeply moved, Armand’s father leaves. Marguerite’s servant Nanina approaches and gives Armand the diary containing Marguerite’s last thoughts of love for him.

The theme and characters from Puccini’s Manon Lescaut – where Armand and Marguerite first met in Paris – are ironically similar. The main character dies in the arms of her faithful lover. Armand silently closes Marguerite’s diary.

Italian Composer Giuseppe Verdi – Giovanni Boldini WQXR

It was a lovely ballet and all seats in the house were sold. The set, costumes, and symphony were exquisite. Talented dancers shined while performing difficult choreography and the audience clearly appreciated them. Throughout the evening I detected many Italian and Russian accents. There was no printed program listing names of the dancers, and photos were not allowed.

Symphony, ballet, and opera performances in Sarajevo are inexpensive. I paid about $10 for a great seat at this performance.

Bolero Berlin – Chamber Music, Philharmonic, and Latin Jazz

Bolero Berlin – Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra

Last night was another evening of outstanding music in Berlin! Bolero Berlin performed at the Berlin Philharmonic and finding a group of musicians with more charm or talent would be difficult!

Martin Stegner Viola –

After becoming “enchanted and inspired by melancholic, mysterious, sensual Cuban bolero,” violist Martin Stegner created the Bolero Berlin ensemble. The popular group fuses chamber music and philharmonic with Latin American jazz creating their own exceptional sound.


The “warm, dark, soft sound that characterizes Cuban bolero appeals to the viola player in particular.”


Esko Laine, Contra-Bass – Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra

Philharmonic Meets Jazz

Martin Stegner plays viola with the Philharmonic, and Bolero Berlin includes three of his “like-minded orchestral colleagues”:

In addition, the ensemble has two incredible internationally known jazz performers:

Bolero Berlin Solos

Each musician performed solos demonstrating mastery of their instruments. The stunning solos were fully appreciated by the audience.

Preis’s mastery of his four instruments is amazing. Stegner’s bolero takes your heart and mind on a Latin vacation. Esko Laine’s solo during a composition inspired by Duke Ellington blew the audience away, and it was a delight watching Gioia flawlessly play a myriad of exotic Latin percussion instruments.

Daniel “Topo” Gioia, Percussion –

During an encore, guitarist Nieberle surprised the audience by playing a gorgeous ukulele solo – evoking big sounds from the instrument. Raphael Haeger held everything together with his impeccable piano skills and accompanied Gioia on drums during a Latin percussion tambourine solo.

Bolero Berlin – iTunes

In addition to their distinguished careers as musicians, Bolero Berlin members are also composers and teachers. They perform with other artists and have won many awards.


“We look forward to every concert and have a relaxed, respectful approach. Nothing has changed in ten years.”   Martin Stegner Bolero Berlin


Raphael Haeger, Piano and Drums – Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra

The group’s goal is “surprising listeners with familiar melodies in an unfamiliar sound”. Because jazz and classical are so different, in the beginning some wondered if the concept would work.

Bolero Berlin – © 2018 Hagke. Music Management

Clearly the music does work, and their audiences love them! The concert last night celebrates their 10th anniversary performing together. They’ve perfected Latin American music in philharmonic sound while complimenting each other superbly.

Bolero Berlin – Photo Alba Falchi

For their anniversary program, Helmut Nieberle arranged music combining tracks from Consuelo Velázquez’s Besamé Mucho, Django Reinhardt’s Troublant Boléro, Duke Ellington, and tango master Astor Piazzolla with operatic melodies from Giuseppe Verdi’s Rigoletto and Richard Wagner’s Tannhäuser. The result was absolute heaven!

Manfred Preis, Clarinet and Saxophone – Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra

I regret not being able to understand Stegner’s German narrative which amused the audience and created laughter. The program was in German, but the compositions played were originals inspired by contemporary and classical artists and composers.

I especially liked their tango music and reminisced about a Piazzolla Tango Performance in Buenos Aires several years ago. The evening featured the traditional songs of Astor Piazzolla, the world’s foremost tango music composer.

Helmut Nieberle, Guitar © Arvo Wichmann


“Classical concert organizers don’t dare offer jazz sounds to their audience, while jazz organizers doubt whether philharmonic musicians get the right groove for jazz and Latin American music.”


Bolero Berlin’s performance was a memorable evening! You must hear them in person to appreciate their talent and incredible sound. After rousing applause and two amazing encores, the audience still didn’t want to let them go!