Opera Philadelphia extends wedding invitation with ‘Svadba’

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After opening with “Nabucco,” a 19th-century chestnut by Verdi, Opera Philadelphia continues its season with something younger, leaner, and hipper.

“Svadba” — Serbian for “wedding” — is performed entirely a cappella, with just six female voices. So it does not require an opera house with an orchestra pit. It is now fully staged and choreographed at the new Fringe Arts Building at Race Street and the Waterfront.

The opera is written in the style of Eastern European women’s choral music, with a story about a bride and her five friends the night before a wedding.

“It’s a beautiful testament to the friendship of women,” said stage director Marie-Josee Chartier, of the Toronto-based theater company Queen of Puddings. “It’s a highly charged, emotional moment: ‘Milici our friend, you’re leaving home forever, and you’re leaving us forever.’

“Always a bittersweet moment when you get married, when there is a tight unit as friends,” she said. “We see a roller coaster of emotions from wanting to be with her, and being mad at her, and some old rivalries that come through.”

The women sing in lush unison with subtle changes in harmony — so subtle that it’s nearly impossible for any one of them to practice on her own. Rehearsals are all or nothing.

“All these locking harmonies are created for six voices,” said Chartier. “There are some solo lines that peak once in a while, but it’s an engrenage — a locking machinery that has to be very, very tight rhythmically. It’s very much an ensemble work.”

Every performance of “Svadba” concludes with a wedding feast, in which the audience is invited to participate, with music by the Balkan-inspired West Philadelphia Orchestra.

You can hear a two-minute sample of “Svadba” via the audio button at the top of the page.

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