Bach as the perfect preparation for the Biennale


To sing ten roles from ten operas written by ten different composers in one night – the unprecedented feat will be performed by Monika Cerovčec, soprano, and Krešimir Stražanac, bass-baritone, at the28th Music Biennale Zagreb. Two excellent young Croatian singers have taken on the challenge to perform the ten compositions which have been selected to the final of the international 5-Minute Opera competition. The extraordinary musical event will take place on the fourth night of the 28th MBZ, at Hrvatski glazbeni zavod on April 21 at 8 pm.

The competition rules stated that all the works should be written for soprano, baritone and an eight member chamber ensemble. Berislav Šipuš will conduct, and the winner will be commissioned to write a new work to be performed at the 29th Music Biennale in 2017.

The impression the new works will have on the judges and audience depends greatly on the two singers. We decided to see if our young star singers – who will add ten roles and titles to their repertoire in one night, as nobody has done before – already took a peek at the scores written by the competition finalists, contemporary composers from Sweden, France, Canada, Argentina, Switzerland, Belgium, Poland and Greece.

With Krešimir Stražanac, currently in Munich, now a freelance artist after working at the Zurich opera for eight years, we communicated through Facebook. He says:

„I enjoy performing contemporary pieces, especially works of composers who have found their original expression. A good example is Moritz Egger, whose songs I recently sang in Zagreb, or Peter Eötvösand Christian Jost, whose works I also had a chance to perform. I like compositions in which I can recognize aspects of life, which have been inspired by life. I also enjoy pieces which are rich in colors and provoke an emotional reaction with the audience. Isn't the aim of music to remind us of some moments of our lives, or to tell us a story we may not have experienced, but we feel compassion for?“

At the HGZ stage, the ten short operas will be performed as a concert, but that does not mean any less effort for Krešimir Stražanac:

„As always, you can expect that I will give my best to interpret each piece as clearly and accessibly as I can. You can expect that I will sometimes go to extremes, which is my specialty. My motto is everything or nothing, so I am ready for any risk worth taking. I am looking forward to the collaboration withMonika Cerovčec, whom I have met in Austria some years ago."

Monika Cerovčec, who has already gained a lot of experience through her outstanding performances in Croatian opera and concert stages, thinks along the same lines.  

„I am looking forward to this project because I am interested to know in which direction opera is headed – towards experimenting with sounds, or do composers care more for melodies? The five minute operas I have already looked into do not seem difficult or too complicated, but they are all very different. I am used to contemporary composers making use of the entire range of a singer's voice, from highest to lowest tones, so I was somewhat surprised by the fact that in this case such extremes are not required from us. In any case, this is a completely new experience. I am particularly keen to work with Krešimir. He is more experienced than I am so I hope to learn something new. Although we will perform the operas as a concert, I am sure there will be plenty of interaction between us."

While they are waiting for their first rehearsal together in Zagreb and their performance at the MBZ, Monika and Krešimir are connected through another artistic passion and admiration. Currently, they are both immersed into Johann Sebastian Bach's music – what is more, in the same monumental work. Monika Cerovčec in Zagreb, as a soloist and member of Antiphonus ensemble, and Krešimir Stražanac in several German cities, as a soloist performing with the ensembles of the Bavarian Radio, take part in performances of Bach's Johannes-Passion.

Is Bach compatible with contemporary music? „Of course“, says Monika Cerovčec readily, and then adds: „Most of my repertoire consists of baroque and earlier music on one side and contemporary works on the other. The only thing that is necessary is a mind willing to adapt.“