Svadba

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Boston Lyric Opera Comes  to Truro

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by Rebecca M. Alvin

Weddings spark an array of emotions. Whether here in a country where marriage has been on the decline for decades and divorce a 50/50 chance, or in a more traditional culture where marriages are expected for everyone, with the assumption they will last forever, the union of two people in matrimony can bring out our best and our worst. But while one’s wedding day can have its own particular anxieties and joys, it is only the culmination of other events, such as wedding showers, bachelor parties, and bachelorette parties. In Serbian composer Ana Sokolovic’s play Svadba (which means “wedding” in Serbian), it is that night before the wedding that is the focus. Specifically, it begins on the bride’s final night as a single woman, and the women in her life, her friends, celebrate this with her. In addition, there are fantasy/dream sequences as she looks forward to her wedding.

Svadba is an a capella opera, for female voices, and the composer Ana Sokolovic created what we believe to be this really inspiring and powerful and complex piece of music that is telling this abstract, nonlinear story,” says Bradley Vernatter, artistic director of the Boston Lyric Opera’s (BLO), which is currently shooting a film version of Svadba in Truro.

 “And just musically it’s really unique. It’s a contemporary piece that still has very warm and wonderful harmonies that are really drawing you into it,” he adds.

Director Shura Baryshnikov with Cape Cod resident Erica Gomes, the hair and makeup coordinator for the shoot.

Like many opera and theater companies around the world, BLO was deeply affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. And while they have commenced performing for live audiences again now, for the past 18 months or so, they’ve struggled with how to continue to bring groundbreaking as well as traditional operas to audiences safely. The strategy that emerged was to not just stream opera performances, as the Metropolitan Opera in New York City does, but to work with operas in a cinematic way. Instead of competing with that much larger institution, they decided to work with cinematic operas, as film and certain operas share many common threads, and shoot them for the screen.

So the story itself is not narrative, it’s pretty abstract; it’s not linear and it’s not really literal. And it’s investigating the sites of these relationships with her family and with her friends on the precipice of this next chapter of her life. And because of the abstract nature of the storytelling, and really the way that this core is written, as well, it just – when I first heard it, it just felt to me very much like a cinematic core,” he explains. “And because it’s based on Slavic and Balkan folktales, which sort of happen in scenes or episodes, rather than a very strict literal storytelling and so the abstract nature of it really, we believe, lends itself to being explored in a cinematic way.”

To direct the film, BLO tapped Shura Baryshnikov (daughter of Jessica Lange and Mikhail Baryshnikov), who is also an accomplished choreographer and brings those sensibilities to her work. Vernatter says Svadba is a piece that merges together the disciplines of music and dance, in addition to lending itself to a cinematic interpretation, making Baryshnikov ideal for the job.

BLO has produced one other opera-film, The Fall of the House of Usher, with music by Philip Glass, and also a very successful opera miniseries called in desert, which was shown on Operabox.tv. Now, Vernatter and Baryshnikov have chosen to film Svadba right here in Truro, giving the opera a uniquely coastal New England vibe. While Sokolovic didn’t set the story on the Cape, she has stated in interviews that it was very much her intention to make something culturally specific but with vast universal connections so that it could be set anywhere. And certainly bringing Balkan culture to Truro is a nice fit.

Observing the cast and crew working hard to capture a dream sequence from the opera on Ballston Beach in Truro on a sunny October morning, with the white-capped waves crashing closer and closer to a cameraman’s feet, the risks and rewards of shooting on location in New England are clear. Just as it seems his feet are going to get wet, Baryshnivok calls cut and the crew is on to a different setup slightly farther inland. Coincidentally, it is just after high tide and the waves recede anyway, perfectly supporting this production. But according to Vernatter, such has not always been the case; the day before, an entire scene had to be restaged because of the chilly wind that tore through our region for 24 hours. The only things you can rely on in New England are unreliable weather reports and drastic shifts in wind and temperature. But also the light shifts. As this story is set over a specific period of time, from the evening before to the morning when the wedding occurs, Vernatter says they have felt like they were always “chasing the light” to anchor this abstract story in a particular time frame.

“But what a wonderful place,” he says. “I mean, artists for decades have been chasing the light out here in Truro and the end of the Cape. And in this case we’re just letting it inspire the work that we’re doing. So it’s a good challenge to have.”

Svadba will be premiering in late January 2022 on operabox.tv. For more information about this and other Boston Lyric Opera productions visit blo.org.