Michael Letchford Artists

The Life & Career of a Great British Bass - Norman Walker - Front Cover



The celebrated Bulgarian bass made his Covent Garden debut in Boris Godunov in 1949, singing the role of Boris for the first time on the opera stage. He also made his first recordings for HMV between 1949 and 1952. The great success of both his Covent Garden performances and his recordings did much to establish his international career. For these reasons and many more Boris Christoff had great affection for London and his faithful audiences both at Covent Garden and in the concert halls. The author attended many of Christoff’s performances between 1958 and 1985 and has many recollections of the singer ‘off stage’. The book contains a detailed chronology of the singer’s London performances and recordings and contemporary reviews.

Boris Christoff left Bulgaria in 1943 and did not return to his homeland for many years. The author has recently discovered details little known outside Bulgaria of his life before he decided to devote himself to singing and leaving Sofia for Rome. These early biographical details are published in English for the first time.

116 pages, 25 illustration in colour and black & white £16 + £2.14 p/p for UK customers, £16.00 + £4.88 EU , £16.00 + £7.21 US & £16.00 + £7.53 Australia Payments via Sterling cheques or via bank transfer (details will be sent via invoice) PayPal for non-Sterling area customers if preferred.

Boris Christoff in London is available from Michael Letchford, Author & Publisher

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Boris Christoff Review
Musical Opinion October 2020

‘The author of this fascinating compendium, Michael Letchford, knew Christoff personally, and this collection of biographical outlines, aesthetic appreciation, performance and recording data of the great singer’s years in London, together with extracts from press reviews and broadcasts scripts, is threaded through with many photographic illustrations. This is a book on a great artist which does full justice to it noble subject, with much information published in English for the first time.

Michael Letchford has published a number of similar books on singers of the past, in every instance providing much needed insight and information of the artists concerned. The presentation quality of this book is fully in accordance with the significance of its subject-matter, and it must take its place alongside those earlier titles from this highly dependable source, in paying full respect to a truly great artist.’

Robert Matthew-Walker
Musical Opinion Quarterly.

Review by Alan Bilgora
in The Record Collector, June 2020

For those of us who recall Christoff’s debut performance in Boris Godounoff at Covent Garden on 19th November 1949 (his first appearance in that role on any stage), will recall what an outstanding effect his personality and singing had on his audience, and especially, his ability to float a beautiful mezza-voce into the furthest spaces of the theatre. The response was overwhelming, and after numerous curtain calls he was reduced to acknowledging the applause by kneeling on the stage and just waving to his excited audience. These appearances were to launch his international career, and the author, who as a young man was a keen collector of recordings by renowned vocal artists subsequently became a fan through the issue of the singer’s initial 78rpm recordings.

For reasons that will later become clear to readers, Michael Letchford has concentrated in the main on Christoff’s career in London, and has included in the book his biography of the singer, which when, as Marketing Manager for HMV/EMI classics UK he was tasked to write a suitable biography, highlighting the singers repertoire and international successes. These comprehensive sleeve notes were to accompany the issue of a four-record set of LP’s, featuring various published, and some previously unpublished recordings made by the Company between1949 to 1952. Michael was to establish a close rapport with the singer, after presenting him with the recordings, and later, on a number of occasions was able to spend considerable time with Christoff. This has enabled him to comment, without resorting to hyperbole, on the artist’s qualities not only as a singer, but as a person, and he was to remain in friendly contact long after leaving EMI to join Decca.

As detailed in a previous biography by Atanas Bozhkoff we know that Christoff was born on the 18th May, 1914 in Plovdiv near Sofia in Bulgaria, initially qualifying as a lawyer, and sitting for a short while as a Judge. However like his father before him sang in a church choir, and aged 18 he joined the famous Gusla Choir which toured Bulgaria. Later he became a soloist at the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Sofia where his voice had attracted the attention of King Boris, who arranged with the Ministry of Education to award him a scholarship to take singing lessons in Italy, which he undertook just before World War ll. He began to study with the great baritone Riccardo Stracciari, where in Rome his life and the start of his Italian career is documented in part Bozhkoff’s book. However, we are now able to read in some detail of Christoff’s previous existence and times in Bulgaria, during the years 1937 to 1943.

In his research of the singers life Michael Letchford visited the Boris Christoff House Museum in Sofia where the Director Elena Dragonstinova presented him with a copy of a book ‘Love and Talent’ by Penka Kasabov. Michael wishes to acknowledge his debt to Violetta Tsoneva, the granddaughter-in-law of Penka, who provided him with translations of vital passages of the book. These outline the love affair between Boris and this prominent Bulgarian educator who was 13 years older than Christoff, and who in spite of his family’s disapproval of their relationship, he wanted to marry. Nevertheless, it was Penka who accompanied Christoff to various concerts and recitals, played him recordings of Chaliapin, recognised his emotional response to that and other great singers’ ‘Art’ and insisted that he leave Bulgaria and go to Italy to study. She then, in a very personal way goes on to describe their life together and the events that lead to his receiving the Royal scholarship, and with the subsequent problems of keeping together during a period of broken study, because of World War ll. Happily his lessons with Stracciari were renewed on the cessation of hostilities. Boris and Penka were able to keep in touch throughout the 60’s 70’s and 80’s.

Included in the book are transcriptions of a BBC interview with that very knowledgeable music critic and record collector, the late Alan Blyth. Here the singer responds well to the questions, and explains his motivations as an interpretative artist. Printed also, is an extremely interesting verbatim report, revealing his choice of recordings to Roy Plomley, the creator the famous radio programme ‘Desert Island Discs’. The book also features a complete chronology of Christoff’s broadcasts, concerts, recitals and London appearances, together with important contemporary reviews. Also there is a complete discography covering the78rpm issues and various LPs of complete operas and radio recitals etc. from various sources. This has been compiled by Malcolm Walker, whose father Norman had sung Pimen in some productions of Boris Godounov at Covent Garden. Michael at onetime studied singing with Norman Walker and therefore understood why Christoff was to be admired, not only for his remarkable vocal timbre, but also his technique.

Although this is a paper-back edition, the book is printed on excellent paper, and there are many excellent photographs of the singer, both in costume and ‘mufti’. This is a fine tribute to an artist, who in spite of only singing a limited number of his great roles in the UK always retained a special feeling for England and especially London. It was there he always considered with his initial appearances in Boris Godounov that he was to establish the beginnings of his huge international career. This book should be welcome addition to satisfy fans of one of the 20th Centuries truly outstanding artists.




Each volume includes: - A biography, reviews, performance chronology, discography, rare photographs and, where recordings exist, a CD.

All books are available from the author:

Michael Letchford, Goar Lodge, Smith’s Green, Takeley, CM22 6NS

Email mlartists2@gmail.com. Telephone +44 (0) 1279 870590. Mobile +44 (0) 7815 871766

Please request invoice, which will include cost of postage, with your name and address. Payment by Sterling cheque, PayPal or bank transfer. Thank you