Opera Circus: Differences in Demolitions
Tron Theatre, Glasgow, Wed 27 & Thu 28 May; Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh, Sat 31 May
Think of Bosnia and Herzogovina and the chances are that ethnic cleansing and bloodshed spring to mind. Yet, this Balkan country, where east meets west, has a rich cultural heritage, particularly its traditional music known as ‘sevdah’, which is not especially well known in Western Europe. In his magical new chamber opera, Differences in Demolitions, composer Nigel Osborne draws on the sevdah tradition to present a powerful story of conflict, greed and desire in a world surrounded by demolition and destruction.
Music that is highly emotive, about the ecstasy of love, but with a characteristic melancholy yearning, sevdah has a unique beauty. ‘It is a form I had known for a long time,’ explains Osborne, ‘but I had never written in it before. In a way, the opera evolved of its own volition and wrote itself. Sevdah music is all beautiful, sad, about lost love and the scenarios in the opera developed from the songs and the episodes to which they relate. Only one sevdah song is actually quoted, but there are lots of echoes of it. One thing that I am really pleased about is that the sevdah musicians are happy with what I have written.’
An urban style that grew up in the 16th and 17th centuries, sevdah was originally for voice and saz, a sort of Turkish guitar. Other influences, notably Arabic and Turkish, but even 18th century Italian opera, were imperceptibly absorbed. The opera tells of a migrant worker who daydreams about how different his life would be in his own country where the ghosts and spirits of the building would come to life. As he cherishes his secret love of his girlfriend back home, he enters an extended reverie where ghosts do come to life and survival, whether of sevdah, of culture, of a people, is the optimistic future.