Archive for June, 2011

‘T was the night before a wedding…

June 28, 2011

It was a jolting surprise to hear that the world première of an opera sung in the Serbian language will take place in Toronto. The opera Svadba – Wedding (svadba in Serbian means wedding), written for 6 female singers (no instruments), is composed by Ana Sokolović, an acclaimed native Serbian, and a Canadian contemporary composer now residing in Quebec. Ms. Sokolović was born in Belgrade, where she studied composition. She received a Master’s Degree at the University of Montreal, the city she decided to make her home. Her outstanding talent as a composer has been recognized by critical acclaim, numerous awards and prizes both in Canada and internationally. Her creative collaboration with the Queen of Puddings Music Theatre resulted in the production of her first opera, The Midnight Court Opera”. A year after it was premiered in Toronto 2005, it was performed at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. Svadba-Wedding is her second opera, which premiered on 24 June 2011, at the Berkeley Street Theatre, again in Toronto.

It appears that the singers enjoyed taking part in the experimental playfulness of this opera in spite of the tough learning task with the densely packed consonants and pronunciation of archaic Serbian texts. Jacqueline Woodley appeared in the role of the bride-to-be, Milica, Carla Huhtanen as Zora, Andrea Ludwig as Nada, Shannon Mercer as Danica, and Krisztina  Szabó as Ljubica.

Commissioned by the Queen of Puddings Music Theatre to compose a piece for 6 female singers, Ms. Sokolović, guided by a wish for creating a joyful and universal human context which would fit the initial requirement, ventured into her ethnic heritage researching love songs, medieval epic and lyrical folk poems. From this starting point her research expanded into the exploration of the rhythmic quality of the Serbian language, combining the experimental sounds of rolling pebbles, stirred ice cubes in a glass, with soprano voices. Those loosely connected sound and visual vignettes resonate with the vibration of universal human experience embedded in the archetypal images and rites of initiation.

Svadba is a story without a narrative. It is a direct musical experience. It is a vibration that connects the stage with the audience. It is human voice which reconciles by itself and within itself sound and emotion on a level we all share. The exchange between the performers and the audience takes place on a profound level, which overcomes the barrier of linguistic communication.

In many cultures it is a tradition that a bride spend her last night before the wedding at her home accompanied by her girlfriends in preparation to be initiated into the adulthood of married life. They sing and talk and play together while helping their friend to prepare for one of the most important days of her life. A wedding, in the Serbian folk tradition, is a collective experience. Incorporated into Christianity, the pagan rites and superstitious  customs  survived and retained prominent place in the Serbian folklore calendar, revolving around fairies, spirits of the water and forest, dragons, and other out-of-this-world invisible beings. The rich ethnic Slavic heritage includes not only poetry and music but also tapestry, embroidery and dance, which in their synergy are the inspirational force behind the Svadba-Wedding opera.

The Berkeley theatre was just the perfect size for a full enjoyment of the vocal acrobatics this opera abounds with. Costume and set designer Michael Gianfrancesco came up with flattering sensual outfits, leaving out the time/space specifications and emphasizing the universal quality brought up by the composer. Stage director Michael Cavanagh connected the dots in this opera of a yet unclassified genre with spirited intelligible charm.

It occurred to me that this opera may be staged in so many different ways. Calixto Bieito would  bring up a completely different flavour by staging the bride’s girls’ night before the wedding, for example, in a strip club with male dancers.