About Boris Christoff


Boris Christoff

18 May 1914 – 28 June 1993

“My continuous studying and my long career have always been in the name of culture and will always be in the name of mankind, my Slav people and my native Bulgaria that I am devoted to as much as any Bulgarian should be. And I am very proud to be able to increase its prestige in the world.” Boris Christoff

“One can always distinguish his voice by its great force, its ability to amaze with the richness of nuances – from thunder-like ones to angry or tender pianissimo. Literally, his acting reaches summits in dramatic art.

Any time Boris Christoff appeared on any stage in the world, there was always laudability about his performance. The materials about his art did not spare any praise. The quote mentioned above is from the criticism after a performance of “Don Carlos” in Salzburg in the 80s. Other comments about his King Philip mentioned the glamour of Boris Christoff’s voice and the variety of its nuances – from the dominating power to the tenderness, nobleness and profoundness.

After the performance a lot of people tried to explain the magic. Invariably, they reached to the conclusion that behind every single gesture there was a strong motivation. It is so because Boris Christoff was renowned not only for his voice, but also for his profound knowledge of the role. He added emotions to the character only after he had considered even the tiniest details. It is known that in order to make his characters truthful, he spent long hours contemplating and analyzing paintings and books from the respective historical time.

“In order to know the piece in depth, you should know everything; you should consider and learn it.” That is the creed the great master left to the young artists.  

In his grand career Boris Christoff rejoiced the right and privilege to direct and set the rules in the performances he took part in. He argued with some of the greatest opera names. But no one ever viewed these arguments as a sign of frills. Because his requirements were always a result of his profound reading of the score; and namely the tiny details formed the wholesome picture of the historic time.

The unique feature of Christoff’s character is the feeling of multi-dimension that he transmitted. The vitality of his characters is rooted in his skill to depict them both real and surreal, with the help of his voice and facial expressions. Thus he achieved a so-called “stereo presence” – incarnating the character and at the same time being able to observe him from aside.

His way started from Sofia. Then he conquered the opera theatres in Rome, Parma, Bologna, Venice, Mantua, Genoa, Palermo, Covent Garden in London, Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires, San Carlo in Naples, La Scala in Milan and many more.

From his enormous repertoire Boris Christoff performed King Philip II the most – 420 performances. Next come Boris Godunov – 300, don Basilio – 290, Dosifei, Mephistopheles… Apart from the opera roles, he sang Bulgarian and Russian lay songs, Liturgy Domestika by Alexander Grechaninov and the vocal masterpieces by Modest Mussorgsky.

Boris Christoff’s character gives to the different roles particular nuances. Strange as it may be, within him contradictory features exist in unison: he is a tragic martyr in Verdi’s operas; he has the Slav dignity in the Russian roles, the remorse when he sings Wagner’s “Parsifal”, the fine humour of don Basilio, the immensity in Mussorgsky’s songs. Only thanks to his great talent could these contradictory features abide in perfect harmony. Owing to his studying he could reject the established historical clichés to the roles and find his own approach to the character and the historical moment.

His generosity and nobleness dominate above the rest. He helped the young talented Bulgarian artists as their mentor and teacher, thus proving the truth that the greatness of an artist does not lay only in his roles, but also in his deeds.

Author: Elena Dragostinova