Olja Jelaska’s remarks on her chamber opera "Searching for the Blue Bird"
When did you first come across the template for the Blue Bird and what does the title Searching for the Blue Bird mean?
I have read the novel The Blue Bird a long time ago, some 25 years ago, after receiving it as a gift a couple of days after graduating in composition from the Music Academy. I read it right away and liked it very much. Then I put it on my shelf and there it waited for 25 years. Subconsciously, I committed it to memory and it waited for its moment.
Sanja Ivić wrote a brilliant, inspired libretto to the motifs from Maeterlinck’s The Blue Bird, and the title Searching for the Blue Bird refers to the search for purpose in a modern world brimming with wrong idols. This 65-minute opera consists of eight connected images through which the story develops.
Two main characters are Anabella (soprano) and Bertram (baritone) who embark upon the quest for the Blue Bird from their room. The Fairy (Peddler Fairy/alto) arrives to offer them tourist trips and also gives them a green diamond to guide them on this quest. On their journey, they reach a cemetery (the third image by a male quartet) as there is a possibility that the Blue Bird may be hidden in the space between the living and the dead. Yet, there is no Blue Bird there and they need to move on. On their way to the forest they meet the Cat (soprano) and the Dog (tenor) who take them to the Oak (bass). The old Oak is a misanthrope, very suspicious towards a young couple and reluctantly agrees to let them enter the forest.
Anabella and Bertram move on accompanied by the Cat and the Dog and come across the Castle (tenor) in the forest who talks them into using hookah in order to find the Blue Bird easier. In the following episode, the Castle, Anabella and Bertram use hookah and after a while end up thrown on a sandbank where they watch the clouds in the sky. Completely groggy, they find a message in a bottle. A giant wave appears and with it a Voice from the Sea (bass) announcing the arrival of the Queen of Lights (coloratura soprano). The Queen reveals a secret, followed by her aria.
In the final, eight image, Anabella and Bertram are again in the same room from which they embarked on the journey, but are now radically different as they underwent a transformation during their search.
What is Olja like as a composer of music-stage pieces, what do you focus on, what are your biggest challenges and your biggest joys?
I graduated with a chamber opera The Chamber Trio from the Music Academy and I have really loved the opera as a musical form for a long time. It enables merging of different art forms, asking questions about life and livelihood, human relationships, depending on the theme one selects. I have found myself in it.
In this opera I used an orchestra that consists of a string quintet, a wind quintet, trumpet, trombone, piano, harp and percussions. There are seven soloists and nine roles, so two singers play two roles. I have also used a male klapa ensemble for the “singing graves” in the third image and once again in the fourth image when the male klapa sings the cut forest as in the true spirit of the Dalmatian klapa ensemble.
Most of the characters have their own arias in which they express their personalities and beliefs. I have also used a leitmotif – a green diamond that helps Anabella and Bertram find a way out of difficult situations. The density of instrumentation follows the evolution of the story and this is precisely why the density is higher in the second part, when the climax occurs.
What are your previous experiences with the music-stage pieces and how much does this chamber opera build upon your earlier works?
I finished my composition studies with a chamber opera, so I knew that I would return to this form as it enables me to develop synergy between different areas. I love team work, I love working with people with whom I share similar or same artistic views; actually, I enjoy it as together we are creating something expansive.
In a musical sense, this new opera strongly builds upon all that I have created so far and links my entire works to date, while at the same time it opens up new horizons into future opera composing.