Opera Fest brings new life to a traditional art form!

Kitchener Post, Waterloo Chronicle and The Record's Bob Vrbanac interviews Dylan Langan of VCO and composer, Julijana Hajdinjak, about upcoming Canadian Opera Fest

Two new operas commissioned for inaugural event playing in Waterloo and Cambridge

WHATSON 09:53 AM by Bob Vrbanac - Kitchener Post, Waterloo Chronicle, The Record

Philip Klaassen as Stelo, Melina Garcia Zambrano as Aurelia and members of the Vera Causa chorus perform Padajuća Zvijezda in preparation for the inaugural OperaFest this weekend. - Photo courtesy of Vera Causa Opera

Opera as a modern and vital art form that breaks new ground and performs original works might not be the perception some have of the musical tradition of big-voiced performers spinning mythical tales.

But Vera Causa Opera is trying to change that view by mounting the area's first Opera Fest and tapping two up-and-coming composers to provide the music and set the stage for the future of the art form.

The idea of staging an Opera Fest at Knox Presbyterian Church in Waterloo this Friday and the Cambridge Centre for the Arts this Saturday was the brainchild of Dylan Langan, the founder of Vera Causa Opera, which has produced operatic pieces in the region for the past three years. A grad from Wilfrid Laurier University's music program with a deep rich voice, he thought the area was underserved and has since established a willing audience that wants to be challenged by traditional and contemporary works.

"This is how we began," said Langan. "We looking for venues where the operas I had written could be performed because there weren't any locally in the region, and even in the GTA (Greater Toronto Area) and London there weren't a lot of halls that were up for that kind of thing.

"It's always been a core of our mandate to produce new works, and this festival is really where we highlight that and (we) commissioned two emerging composers from right here in the region."

Opera Fest features a work called Padajuća Zvijezda, by Julijana Hajdinjak, sung in Croatian and telling a child's folk tale about the origin of shooting stars, and The Covenant, by Dylann Miller, about a teenage lesbian witch and her run-in with an evil priest.

Hajdinjak is also a recent grad from WLU's music program, and she said she wanted to do a favourite story of her sister Danijela growing up, about lovers who are not just star-crossed, but who cross a star king and invite his wrath in the great traditions of opera like The Barber of Seville or Richard Wagner's Ring Cycle featuring DIe Walkure and the Norse warrior maidens knows as Valkyrie.

"It's a story that my sister had written when she was in Grade 6, and it was a legend about how shooting stars were formed," said Hajdinjak. "I always like the idea because I like studying astronomy and space, so I decided to pursue that imagery and based the libretto on her short story."

But when she was putting the story to music she wanted to keep the lyrics in the original Croatian, to convey some of the emotion and passion that might be lost in translation. Luckily, for her a lot of operas are performed in their original languages, such as German or Italian, so it was following the rich tradition already available to her.

"Croatian was our first language and is what we speak at home," said Hajdinjak, who is originally from Mississauga. "So it was a bit of a challenge to write in the language, but something we were pretty comfortable in trying to make work.

"But we didn't want to lose anybody, or have to used subtitles like you see in some of the big opera productions, so In the end we use the dual languages (English and Croatian) that represent the two different worlds. And we use Luna, the moon, as an English character, and she's not earthbound and not part of the star kingdom, and narrates the story."

With only four or five known Croatian opera works out there, it added to the pantheon of the music and performances. She's been working on it since last fall and is excited to be premièring it at Opera Fest.

"We've been doing music for a long time, and there was always music in our house," said Hajdinjak, whose sister is also studying music at Laurier. "We're classically trained and had written songs before, but nothing really in the classical genres, so this was an amazing opportunity."

Langan said one of the true joys of Opera Fest is the passion that the performers have brought to the new works. "It always blows me away, that level of commitment and care they put into these works."

He's happy to expose audiences to two great new female composers, in Hajdinjak and Miller, and two different perspectives to an art form that is very much alive and thriving. "Look at the new ways we're putting opera onstage," said Langan.

For more information, or tickets to this week's Opera Fest, visit www.vcopera.ca or call 519-277-9277. Tickets are only $15.


Link to Kitchener Post article: https://www.kitchenerpost.ca/whatson-story/8680779-opera-fest-brings-new-life-to-a-traditional-art-form/

Link to Waterloo Chronicle article: https://www.waterloochronicle.ca/whatson-story/8680779-opera-fest-brings-new-life-to-a-traditional-art-form/

Link to The Record article: https://www.therecord.com/whatson-story/8680779-opera-fest-brings-new-life-to-a-traditional-art-form/

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