Wednesday, November 12, 2008

MESS festival, Sarajevo October 2008

The shows I saw in Sarajevo:

B. Brecht: The Respectable Wedding, CROATIA; POU Velika Gorica, Director: Paolo Magelli

This was the best show at the festival in my view. The acting was great, lightly directed and the set was excellent. The furniture was falling apart all over the place, in many unexpected ways. Weddings are frequently exploited as a place to have lots of comical confusion in dysfunctional families. This Brecht's play is the funniest take on the subject I've seen.

Strindberg: Miss Julie, BiH / CROATIA; MESS/HNK Ivan pl. Zajc, Director: Damir Zlatar Frey

Absolutely appalling!!!!! Probably the most pretentious play I've seen recently. In the program the director claims Miss Julie is about the violence on women!?!?! Makes you wonder what planet Damir Zlatar Frey is on. The play lasts about an hour, of which the opening scene, where Miss Julie and the butler attempt aimlessly to display their affection through some bizarre sex, lasts 15 minutes. I haven't seen any other Damir Zlatar Frey's work, but judging by Miss Julie, and some comments I've heard about his other work, he is a director to be avoided unless you like to see pointless nudity and sex on the stage. The acting wasn't any better and the only thing I liked was the music, but this doesn't warrant going to see the play.

Monsters and Prodigies, MEXICO; Teatro De Ciertos Habitantes, Director: Claudio Valdes Kuri

An unusual play about the history of castrati. There was a fat long haired Mexican scaring people from the doors at the back of the stage (funny). There was a castrato (as you'd expected in a play about castrati), two talking heads that were acting like they are a single body (clever) and there was a pianist (brilliant!). But when put all this together the play didn't capture my imagination. Maybe the story was lost in translation or I was just too tired since I arrived in Sarajevo that day after a long journey.

P.I. (PAYS), FRANCE / BENIN; Compagnie Julie Dossavi, Director: Julie Dossavi

This was the second highest rated show on the festival, judged by the audience, and Julie Dossavi won the festival's Golden Laurel Wreath Award for the best actress. Did I like it? Well, it is a dance show with some interesting live African percussion, voice and electronic music. The Julie Dossavi's dance was interesting but not more than that. Simply, there was no story. It was very abstract, something I personally can't connect to.

L. Hübner: Creeps, BiH; Director: Dino Mustafić

The show follows 3 teenagers on their audition for a youth TV presenter. They're from different backgrounds and needless to say, there is a conflict. A very well executed multi media play. Some good acting and live performance of an excellent song about the teenage rebellion in a country ravaged by corruption and nationalism.

J. Glowacki: Hunting Cockroaches, SERBIA; Jugoslovensko Dramsko Pozoriste, Director: Veljko Mićunović

The play is about the life of a couple of Polish artists - emigrants (or refugees) in New York. The play covers most clichés about the "hard" life of east Europeans in the west. Basically it show how rotten and 'cockroach infested' the west is. It's written to have some surreal flashbacks and/or dreams, which I usually like, but all in all the subject didn't touch me even though I'm an (south)east European émigré to the west. I would've thought, it probably appeals to some parts of the home (east European) audience. Story aside, good acting and reasonably directed.

S. Cane: Phaedra's Love, SERBIA / BiH; Jugoslovensko Dramsko Pozoriste / MESS, Director: Iva Milošević

Another well directed and acted play on this years festival. The story is well adopted from a Greek tragedy.

Sing and Be Merry, BELGIUM; The Royal Flemish Theatre KVS, Director: Ruud Gielens

A musical satire about the Flemish nationalism. Well executed and funny in places but it was little bit too long.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Balkanska Carica (The Balkan empress)

Last night I saw the premier of Balkanska Carica (The Balkan Empress) in Crnogorsko Narodno Pozorište (Montenegrin National Theatre), which is the first staged Montenegrin opera ever.

Before I start expressing my views about the opera, let me say I enjoy seeing an opera occasionally, but I'm far from being an opera buff.

The original story was written by the last Montenegrin king, Nikola Petrović (1841-1921).

The libretto goes something like this:

Act 1:
Sometime in the 15th century, the Montenegrin ruler, Ivan Crnojević sends his younger son, Stanko, to help an Albanian duke fight the Turks and therefore defend Montenegro against their advance. Stanko resents that, as well as the fact he won't be the heir to the throne. Before Stanko leaves, Danica swears her eternal love to him and they secretly get engaged.

Act 2:
Here it gets very complicated X-(. Stanko has crossed the lines and joined the Turks who promised him to become the Balkan emperor. On his return everybody is obviously very upset :) including his fiance Danica. They shoot each other.

Act 3:
Stanko begs Danica for forgiveness. They die in each others arms. :p

Even though the story is pretty daft, I enjoyed some other aspects. Mainly the singing. The tenor Dejan Maksimović as Stanko and soprano Vedrana Šimić as Danica generally performed well. Their acting in parts was little wooden, but their singing was world class. The rest of the cast was reasonably good. It was shame the opera didn't have many choral numbers. A minimalist stage set has two slopes and works well with with simple clean background lighting. Throughout the opera the director Radmila Vojvodić added the rhythm of the traditional Montenegrin dance, which reminds you of the turbulent times and the nature of the locals ;-). Another traditionally (over)used detail in depicting the Montenegrin history and culture, the instrument called gusle, was (pointlessly) used at the beginning of the opera.

The opera was written and composed by Dionisio de Sarno – San Giorgio, an Italian composer who lived in Kotor between 1886. do 1893, where he got married. He returned to Montenegro towards the end of his life and died in Perast in 1937.

I enjoyed the music, which was performed by Montenegro Symphonic Orchestra and well conducted by Aleksej Šatski.

The opera programme can be found here:

The official CNP (Montenegrin National Theatre) site is