by Kimberly Horg-Webb
Living through the reign of the Nazi regime and having your first born stolen is more than most people could bear. The life and journey of Monterey resident and Opera singer Boyka Konstantinova Zivadinovich is a triumph that is hard to image.
She was born in 1911 in Vratza, Bulgaria the younger of two children to Michail and Maria Konstantinov. Her father was a teacher who loved to play the violin. The entire family loved music and would sing folk songs together. And although the last memory of her father is from when she was four, leaving to go to war; his passion for music stayed with her.
Her voice began developing when she was three. She would follow her mother around the house singing. Even as a toddler there was something unique about her strong voice that drew crowds of admiring neighbors. She was 15 when she won a music school competition that was open to the public. Soon after, she sang on the radio where she became known as “the girl with the silver voice.” Her formal voice education began after receiving a state-funded grant to music school.
After marrying a violinist, Vasil Lolov, in 1937 and having her first born son, Athanas, shortly after she had her debut and first starring role as Gilda in her hometown. The following year, she appeared again in the role of Gilda. At the final curtain, the audience and the orchestra awarded her a standing ovation.
Her impressive vocal display of hitting not only the hard-to-reach F note but also low notes caught the curiosity of composers who asked to look in her mouth. It was discovered that her palette was deep, which allowed her to reach certain notes. “I could hit notes that only birds could sing. It came natural so I allowed myself to go high,” she explains. Everyone in the audience that night stood up except for one person, her husband. A few days later he disappeared with no warning with their son.
“He was jealous of my success,” she says. “This was a very hard time for me.” She returned to Belgrade and took various roles. She speaks seven languages so she can sing in different languages, constantly hitting “money notes.” Boyka met her second husband, George Zivadmolvlch, a charming lawyer and pianist who also loved the theater. The two married and later on she would have her second son, Michailo.
Much of the land was occupied by Nazi informers. After summoned to perform in Austria, she decided to leave everything (including her only recordings) and head back to Belgrade just as allied bombs fell on Vienna destroying the Vienna Opera, where she was set to perform. “I had to hide. If I was caught I would have been arrested or worse and if I stayed I would have been killed by the bombs,” she explains. “War ruined my career.”
Boyka spent four years in Italy mostly sick to her stomach and living in poverty, waiting for legal documents to move to the United States. “I thought I would never open my mouth again to sing,” she declares. In 1949, she arrived in New York. Her relative spotted her son and managed to give him a letter from his mother. Over the next decade, the two exchanged letters anticipating their 20-year reunion in Belgium.
She moved to Virginia where she taught Slavic languages and later on interviewed for a job in Monterey. Dr. Robert Brockmann hired her to teach at the Defense Language Institute (and became a pen-pal still to this day). “She was the quite the singer and quite the bomb-shell in her day,” says Boyka’s caretaker Gina Broderick.
Athanas lives in Bulgaria and her youngest child resides in Southern California so Broderick has become an integral part of the European icon’s life. The 101-year-old diva was recently awarded a plaque stating her contribution to Bulgarian culture.