Svadba-Wedding revisited

Back in June I attended and wrote up the world premiere of Ana Sokolovic’s Svadba-Wedding. Today it was given again in a concert performance by the original cast in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre at the Four Seasons Centre. I’m not going to repeat what I said in the earlier review but focus on my reactions to seeing it again. First off, it works very well as a concert piece losing less than a more obviously narrative work might. Second, I was struck by the interesting way the piece weaves two very different musical strands together; the high tempo, almost percussive, onomatopoeic elements as referred to before but also a more lyrical element where a long, slow, folk derived line is introduced and then a second and maybe a third or even a fourth melody are woven in to create a rather dense harmonic texture. This second element is particularly apparent in the final number “Farewell”. The contrast is very effective. Finally, Jacqueline Woodley sounded even more like a young Dawn Upshaw. Her ability to sing powerfully with next to no vibrato is very compelling in this sort of music. [Image by John Lauener is from the staged production at Berkeley Street and was lifted from today’s performance flyer]

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Svadba-Wedding

Last night was the world premiere of Montreal composer Ana Sokolovic’s Svadba-Wedding performed by Queen of Puddings Music Theatre at the Berkeley Street Theatre. The 400 or so seat theatre was packed and I had the splendid company of lemurcatta and sabotabby.

Svadba is an interesting work. I guess one can call it an opera. It lasts about an hour and is sung a cappella in Serbian by six singers. The seven scenes take place the night before Milica’s wedding as her best friends prepare her. There isn’t really a linear narrative but the scenes do unfold with a certain coherence. Similarly, although all the characters are named, only the bride to be Milica has any definable identity. The other five sing mostly ensemble and to someone who hasn’t seen the score seem essentially interchangeable.

The music draws on Serbian folk motifs but also has a lot of play with pure sound elements. That much it had in common with the other Sokolovic piece I’ve seen which was a short opera about mobile telephones. It’s not the sort of music one comes away humming but it is quite accessible and very interesting

The production, by Dairine Ni Mheadhra and John Hess, was quite spare but effective. Fabric drapes at the back of the stage are lit for various effects, a flexible piece of mirror serves multiple roles , most notably as Milica’s bath, and long strios of translucent material unroll to represent water. On occasion some Klieg lights make an onstage appearance and there is a ladder that serves as a sort of throne for Milica in the final scene. It’s all quite unfussy and interesting.

The highlight of the show though is the performers themselves. We got to see and hear six of Toronto’s best young singers and they were excellent. Jacqueline Woodley sang Milica and was wonderful. She seems to improve every time I hear her sing. The “friends” consisted of sopranos Laura Albino (last seen as Mimi at the Tranzac), Carla Huhtanen and Shannon Mercer with mezzos Andrea Ludwig and Krisztina Szabo. The nature of the piece makes it impossible to single out individual performances. What we got was crisp, rapid fire ensemble work covering some pretty challenging material nicely held together by Dairine Ni Mheadhra who conducted.

All in all, it’s a really good piece beautifully performed. It runs until July 2 and there five more performances.