Ana Sokolović’s Svadba was premiered by (now defunct) Queen of Puddings Music Theatre in Toronto in 2011. It then toured various European and US cities and has been revived subsequently in cities as far apart as Montreal and Perm, Russia. It might just be the most internationally performed Canadian opera… if indeed an opera it is. On November 5th it returned to Toronto in a production staged by the Glenn Gould School in Mazzoleni Hall at the Royal Conservatory of Music.
It’s an unusual piece. It’s scored for six female voices who mostly sing a cappella but also use hand held percussion and bird calls. It portrays the night before the wedding of Milica; a Serbian peasant girl, when she and her girlfriends do the more or less ritual things appropriate to the occasion, marking her transition to the status of a married woman and thus, more or less, out of their lives.
The production, directed by Jennifer Tarver, is extremely energetic with much more dynamic movement than I remember from the original production. There is interesting use of blue and red scarves and a lot of dance. It works well with Sokolović’s score which is, by turns, energetic and lyrical. The score uses quite a lot of pure sound elements but also themes drawn from folk music/dance, including “call and response” and “verbal duelling” sections. These, in particular, are effectively supported by the blocking and choreography.
The quality of the singing is really very good and would not be out of place in a fully professional production. With the exception of Katelyn Bird as Milica, nobody really gets to show off their individual talents but the ensemble work is accurate, spirited and crisp. One feels that any one of Milica’s five girlfriends Mélissa Danis, Elena Howard-Scott, Chelsea Pringle-Duchemin, Camila Montefusco and Maria Milenic, could have carried a more exposed part. In the event, as tends to be the case in life, the bride plays the starring role and Bird fully lives up to it. She’s a full participant in the ensemble work but she also gets a long and lyrical solo late in the piece which allows her to display considerable emotional range and a rather lovely voice. Peter Tiefenbach conducted and did a fine job given the hyperactivity on the stage.
All in all, an auspicious return for live opera in Toronto.
More details on The Glenn Gould School & RCM’s upcoming productions here.
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