Whether its productions take place underneath the grand chandelier at the Academy of Music or surrounded by the modern contours of the Kimmel Center, Opera Philadelphia has remained firmly planted in traditional operatic venues. That all changes with the American premiere of Ana Sokolovic’s “Svadba – Wedding,” a decidedly non-traditional opera being staged in an equally non-traditional space.
The opera, which will open in early November for four performances, is the first production in the new “Opera in the City” series. Sung a cappella in Serbian with influences of Balkan folk music, “Svadba” will take place in co-presenter FringeArts’ new waterfront home. Each performance of the hour-long piece will be followed by a “wedding reception,” featuring traditional cuisine and Balkan dance music by the West Philadelphia Orchestra.
“Our thinking is that there are a number of operas that are better served outside the opera house,” says David Devan, general director and president of Opera Philadelphia. “’Opera in the City’ is an opportunity for us to bring new and exciting works to life, partner with other city organizations, and in that way bring opera to a wider public and infuse new energy into the art form. So because of FringeArts’ unique space, we’re going to have a very intimate, visceral experience with a very interesting, different opera.”
The partnership with FringeArts is the culmination of years of discussions between Devan and Fringe founder Nick Stuccio. “We’re both big admirers of each others’ institutions,” Devan says. “We agreed that for us to work together on a production, it had to be something that fit both of our brands and artistic impulses.”
Devan discovered “Svadba” through Toronto-based company Queen of Puddings Music Theatre, which commissioned the piece. Unable to attend a performance, he visited the company’s rehearsal space. “I just didn’t want it to end,” he recalls. “And then it dawned on me that one of the reasons why it was so great was because I wasn’t in a theater; I was literally right beside these virtuosic singers. So it snowballed from there, and before you knew it we were doing this almost as a crazy dinner theater.”
“Opera in the City” is planned to be an annual event, with diverse works in a variety of different venues each year. “If anything, the aesthetic is diversity,” Devan says. “We want a wide range of experiences. It will be an opportunity for our long-time operagoers who are interested in seeing something different and widening their experience, but the main motivation is that it will allow opera to touch people who may not have had opera in their lives before.”
Opera Philadelphia: “Svadba – Wedding”
Nov. 2-7, 7 p.m.
Race St. and Columbus Blvd.