The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Nov 12, 2013


Posted by Valerie Nahmad

By David B. Devan, Opera Philadelphia

Svadba-Wedding, the a cappella opera written by the talented, Montreal-based composer Ana Sokolović, was the perfect choice to launch Opera Philadelphia's newest initiative, Opera in The City. It couldn't have been more successful.  The entire run sold out with rave reviews from both audiences and critics alike:

The cast of Svadba-Wedding. Photos by Dominic M. Mercier

Sadly, the Philadelphia production closed on Thursday night (but I hear there may be some interest in producing it elsewhere!).  Special thanks go to our friends from the Queen of Puddings Music Theatre of Toronto, who commissioned and developed this wonderful chamber piece.  We are deeply grateful for the hard work of the amazingly talented cast (after the performance, several musicians I know asked: "How did they do that?")  Thanks also to the dedicated stage management and crew, the amazing West Philadelphia Orchestra, and our partners for this production, FringeArts.  I also need to recognize the incredible Opera Philadelphia staff and board who followed me blindly into this crazy-wonderful new venture.  Bravi tutti and grazie mille!

The gorgeous 'bath' scene from Svadba-Wedding The gorgeous 'bath' scene from Svadba-Wedding

One of the things I do after each one of our productions is to close the door to my office and take some time to reflect on what we did, seeking to find lessons that can inform our future work.   Here is what I concluded:

Some people truly value an immersive experience:  It became clear each night that people were as happy with the Balkan wedding party afterwards as they were with the opera itself.  Person after person told me how much they loved the breadth of their experiences they were exposed to: singing, food and dance.  Many people who attended (half had never been to an opera before!) saw it as more of a cultural experience than a purely artistic one – each being informed by the other.  Takeaway/next step thinking: can we figure out ways to bolster some of our opera experiences with authentic cultural experiences that are connected to the work or artistic expression?

The wedding reception begins at FringeArts The wedding reception begins at FringeArts

Surprise is a good thing: Our excitement about attending an event is directly proportional to what is unexpected about the event.  Exceeding expectations with uncharted experiences led to lasting memories for many of the people that attended.  Most people commented that they could not imagine an opera like Svadba, nor could they believe that they were at an opera event.  Takeaway/next step thinking: maintain our practice of building well-thought out and executed surprises in our programs and productions as to always exceed our customers’ expectations.

Cutting the wedding cake with composer Ana Sokolović and Queen of Puddings founders Dairine Ni Mheadhra and John Hess Cutting the wedding cake with composer Ana Sokolović and Queen of Puddings founders Dairine Ni Mheadhra and John Hess

Follow your gut: When I first heard Svadba-Wedding in a rehearsal in Toronto, it spoke to me and I was captivated. Similarly, the first time I heard the West Philadelphia Orchestra I was entranced.  I could not fully explain why I felt the way I did about Svadba, or exactly why I thought that the West Philadelphia Orchestra would be a good fit with it.  I just felt it in my gut.  It turns out, now that I have seen the opera and the orchestra together side by side, is because both sets of performers are virtuosic and both authentically produce sounds from the heart that run deep from within the Balkan culture.  Takeaway/next step thinking: Make sure that our planning process embraces instincts in addition to logic and careful analysis – sometimes we may need to do something just because we need to do it.

A special note of thanks also to Catering By Design who served an incredible feast every night and have now added Serbian food into their ever expanding repertoire of offerings!

Another special thanks goes to the Knight Foundation for their incredible leadership in awarding a challenge grant to make this project happen. They have been incredible partners and share our joy of innovation and trying new things.

The West Philadelphia Orchestra was amazing! The West Philadelphia Orchestra was amazing!


And finally, a shameless plug for the West Philadelphia Orchestra – check out their website and make sure you go to one of their shows – they are simply the best and they make me hometown proud that they are here in Philadelphia.

Hvala puno, vidimo se!  (Google translate it)

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