Culture

"Goca e Kaçanik" evokes love for the homeland and the art of opera

Descriptive Text

It has been more than half a century since it was written and 45 years since it was staged in Tirana for Rauf Dhomi's "Goca e Kaçaniku", with the libretto by Ajmone Dhomi and Jusuf Buxhov, to be staged as an operatic performance in the place where it originated and grew. It is staged in foreign homes or by an institution without a home. But above all, "Goca..." opens a new chapter in the art history of Kosovo. And this he managed to do magically. On the stage where the improvisations come out, the artistic brilliance on the stage is the contrast behind the scenes. The story he brings is about love for the homeland. The challenges of bringing an opera to the stage are the love of art

A premiere like that of "Kaçanik's Oyster" by the composer Rauf Dhomi would be quite ordinary in another context. But it is not like that. It is historic for several reasons: It is the first opera of Kosovo, its first staging in the country of origin. Among facts like these, there is another reality: From when it was written, it took more than half a century for it to be staged in foreign homes, or by an institution without a home. It came 45 years after the first staging, that of 1979 in Tirana.

But above all, "Kaçanik's Oyster" on the sixteenth anniversary of Kosovo as a state, opens a new chapter in the history of art. And this he managed to do magically. On the stage where the improvisations come out, the artistic brilliance on the stage is the contrast behind the scenes. There, bravery and love for the country collide on one side, betrayal on the other. The first two win. In the context until the realization of this production, the love and the will to bring opera triumph, together with the courage with all the challenges of the artists. The positive and negative sides from the narration in the show also come as a reflection for the institution of the Kosovo Opera, founded in the summer of 2021.

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"Goca e Kaçanik" based on the novella by Milto Sotir Gurra is a symbiosis of the fight for freedom. Nikolin Gurakuqi's direction gives drama to the music of the libretto (Photo: Arben Llapashtica)

Symbiosis of the fight for freedom

The whole troupe of the institution, including the soloists, the Choir and the Orchestra, as well as a part of the National Ballet of Kosovo are accommodated on the 12-meter-wide stage of a private hall on the outskirts of the capital.

The contrast of the environment from the one where the preparatory rehearsals were held to those for the performance for the public, is the other issue. However, the stage brilliance and talent camouflage the spatial and technical flaws. Like the work of defects in the sound from the speakers, where in some cases the voice of the soloists on stage to the audience is often mixed with music and vocals.

The lack of a proper backstage has caused the instrumentalists to pile up very few steps near the first row of the public, on the side parts of the platform, where seats had to be added to accommodate a part of those interested. There were 583 seats. The scenography changes immediately.

At the very beginning, the portrait of the hero Idriz Seferi appears. This is the first sign that turns time back over a century, to 1908, when the hero faced the Albanian uprisings against the Ottomans.

"Goca e Kaçanik" based on the novella by Milto Sotir Gurra is a symbiosis of the fight for freedom. The event takes place in Gryka e Kaçanik and the landscapes are clearly visible on the screens that are props of the scenography.

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The event takes place in Gryka e Kaçanik and the landscapes are clearly visible on the screens that are props of the scenography (Photo: Arben Llapashtica)

A final tenor voice is heard for the last time. The Opera Orchestra takes its seats and the conductor Edon Ramadani soon appears. The lights go down, a round of applause increases the volume of the previous noise in the hall. With the lighting of the stage, the rhythms of the lyrical music also begin, with a folkloric tone that is noticeable from the first sounds. Dancers in national costumes dance two by two in pairs. When a wounded man enters the scene, the mourning begins. The costumes are neatly made by Vesa Kraja. The choreography by Sead Vuniqi brings a piece of Albanian dance heritage into the operatic narrative.

When the narrative in the libretto begins, the tenor Hektor Leka in the role of the Old Man begins to sing about the zeal of love for his daughter, Pafika. In harmonizing voices with Plaka, the roles played by altos Besiana Mehmedi and Teuta Kurti, discuss their daughter's marriage.

Soon the main character, the girl from Kaçanik, Pafika, begins to reveal the character of the heroine and her determination to protect the homeland. The involvement of her two friends is indicative of her ladylike figure in taking care of the family and household responsibilities.

The lights go out, the scene changes. The old man who portrays the figure of the Kreshnik man warns of the attack from the enemy. It warns the people that terrible, terrible days are coming. But the defense of the homeland is uncompromising. Not for all of them. When the envoy of the Turkish Padishah, Kasneci (Denik Prizreni and Rizah Jahaj) reveals the "favors" offered to the people by them in exchange for submitting to the Turkish sultan, Rus Bashi, played by baritone Harris Bajraktari, begins to take his role out of the traitor.

Climax with the killing of the traitor

In the second act, Pafika sings of her love for Trimor, linking it to her love for the motherland. Take the oath of protection from the enemy. Rus Bashi's betrayal sparks and soon the intentions become clear in the conversation with the Turkish Fiqal, played by the tenor Hekuran Bllaca. In the final scene, this former dreams of the sweet life in the name of his cunning and wisdom of manipulation. The same for wealth and to make the noble woman, Pafika, his own.

Hatred and betrayal become even more compelling. From his side comes first the desire to win the enemy over his people as a step to be favored by the High Gate. It is interrupted suddenly by hearing that Pafika is coming. She quickly hides behind the rocks, while she sings to her love for the country and for Trimor, played by tenor Ismet Vejseli.

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Soranoja Adelina Paloja in the role of Pafika (Photo: Arben Llapashtica)

Rus Bashi is cunningly offered. He ties her hands with the intention of kidnapping her. In a moment of distraction, he is hit in the back of the head and the gun is taken from him. Sold in both times. This is also the culminating moment in the opera, where the figure of Pafika as a heroine begins to be revealed. Adelina Paloja neatly brings the lead role not only in the opera "Goca e Kaçanik".

"The climax of the whole opera is when he kills the traitor, Rus Bashi. An Albanian who betrays his people and tries to distort history for personal gain. At that moment, Pafika creates the figure of the heroine", said the soprano Paloja.

She said that her role in the opera "Goca e Kaçaniku" was a portrayal of the Albanian woman, a heroine on the battlefield and in the family.

"Blessed with the reception given to me by the public and I dedicate this role to all Albanian women, those who historically have been self-sacrificing, they were there when they had to have a rifle in their hand, where the family asked them. They have always been there, not putting themselves first and taking risks", said the soprano Paloja, while she considered the performance in this opera the climax of her career.

"It was probably the culminating moment of my career in Kosovo. Apart from the fact that this is also the historical premiere. Not in vain and not recently, it took 53 years to prepare the conditions for this opera to finally be staged before the Kosovar public, where the whole story began", she said.

On July 21, 1979, the opera "Goca e Kaçaniku" was to be premiered at the Opera and Ballet Theater in Tirana. A year before, in 1978, it was given in a concert version in Prizren and Prishtina, performed by soloists, the choir "Collegium Cantorum" and the Symphony Orchestra of Radio and Television of Prishtina, under the direction of Mark Kačinari.

"How to marry a bride in a foreign house..."

It was the years 1971-1972 when Rauf Dhomi would compose "The Oyster...". He was quite excited on Friday, at the premiere of his opera. He remembered the time when he wrote the work.

"When I wrote the opera, I wanted the theme to be Kosovar, since it is also the first local opera. From all the novellas, novels, dramas, I chose Milto Sotir Gurrë. I wanted it to be from Albania as an author. Although the end of the novel goes in a different direction, I adapted it to our conditions and requirements. Hopefully it will be executed here, one day. That day came in 1978, on the centenary of the League of Prizren, but it was performed only in concert form, that is, half, only music", recalled Academician Dhomi, the first and only composer of operatic works, as well as the founder of the national style of vocal-instrumental forms.

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The work was adapted by Edon Ramadani, who is also the conductor of the Orchestra (Photo: Arben Llapashtica)

The composer started writing the music for the opera "Goca e Kaçaniku" during his post-diplomatic studies in Sarajevo, which he completed in 1972, at the same time as he finished the composition for his first opera. Besides "Gocës...", he also composed the music for the opera "Dasma arbëreshe".

Maestro Dhomi said that the premiere in Pristina was the most dear to him. He also emphasized the lack of an opera institution without a theater.

"This premiere for me is warmer, more heartwarming. I see everyone happy. It is a topic for this country. It is a suggestion to the Government that in this hall it is not a compact premiere. How to marry a bride in a foreign house. This is a foreign house, not a theater. I believe that after this premiere we will soon have the house, the opera house", said Dhomi.

The premiere was originally planned for the end of last year. It was postponed for this month due to the extension of the time of renovations in the "1 Tetori" hall, where the institution had debuted with Verdi's "La Traviata" in 2022.

"For the conditions we have, it was the miracle itself..."

With books by Ajmone Dhomi and Jusuf Buxhov, "Goca e Kaçaniku" would send to Tirana a fragment of history not only of music from Kosovo.

Librettist Ajmone Dhomi said that the premiere of the opera on Friday brought her back to the moments when she was writing the verses for this art form.

"For the conditions we have, it was a miracle itself. We have a lot of good youth. It was a wonderful evening. The whole time it left an impression on me, and what I was excited about, who would have thought that this opera was performed in Tirana 45 years ago. Who would have thought that history would repeat itself with what happened to us in the 90s. You say that we thought about it then, and it happened", said Ajmone Dhomi, mentioning that the text in the opera should correspond to the music anyway. He said that he had written down what he felt.

And, its direction in Kosovo was entrusted to the master Nikolin Gurakuqi, whose career includes works in about 80 works as a director. The premiere of "Goca..." was a spectacle for him. But there is another connection with this work, which began 45 years ago.

"I had just finished school. I was an intern at the Opera. They told me if I want to participate in this opera and I told them I want to. I have been familiar with this opera since that year. So I have heard everything. Now that I took it back to stage it in the director's position, when I took it to study the score, I immediately had the music in my ears. It had stayed, slept in my neurons", said director Gurakuqi, who for his work has been awarded the title of "Great Master" by the Presidency of Albania.

The difference in the conditions from where the rehearsals took place and the space where the premiere was held, according to him, was a kind of indicator of the lack of space. A month of rehearsals were held in the Red Hall of the Youth Palace.

"There was quite a lot of space there, so I conducted the tests with the greatest ease. Of course, it was more difficult here, because we went from a smaller environment to a bigger one. It was played on a stage as large as an average theater. But they did it in the best way. We fixed the small defects that were seen during the game and everything went perfect", said Gurakuqi, who assessed the potential of the new generation in the field of music.

"I was sitting there in the lighting section and I watched the show as a simple spectator. With the greatest pleasure", he said.

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Academician Rauf Dhomi: "This premiere for me is warmer, more heartwarming. I see everyone happy. It is a topic for this country. It is a suggestion to the Government that in this hall there is no compact premiere" (Photo: Arben Llapashtica)

The rhythms of songs and music have often been dressed with elements of folklore. At the very end, as a sign of triumph, they sing of freedom, loyalty and love and devotion to the motherland.

With the premiere in Pristina of "Goca...", tenor Hektor Leka has gone back in time, when he attended the premiere in Tirana.

"This production was very special for a number of reasons. Because at the premiere in 1979, my mother was Chorus Master at the Opera House. I was little when I saw the first show. I could never have imagined that I would come to Pristina and become a protagonist. It was a very nice experience", said the tenor Leka, while evaluating the opera as a big step forward for the Kosovo Opera. The character that he has interpreted best reflects the patriotic part of Albanians.

"He is the patriotic character of the opera. It is the elder of Kaçanik who claims for his daughter not a rich man, but a warrior who lives for his country. It is he who chooses the riddles of betrayal and does not accept it from whichever side it comes. It has been a very exciting role for me, at some moments on stage I feel going back in time while I sing", said tenor Leka.

Prime Minister Albin Kurti was at the pre-premiere. He wrote that with the opera "Goca e Kaçaniku" the artistic capacities of Kosovo, Albania and North Macedonia have been united "within the newest institution, the Opera of Kosovo, in cooperation with the National Ballet of Kosovo".

The Minister of Culture, Hajrulla Çeku, has written that the first opera of Kosovo has given powerful emotions to the public.

"The first Kosovar opera 'Goca e Kaçaniku' with composer Rauf Dhomin was performed tonight for the first time in Kosovo after its creation more than half a century ago. The Kosovo Opera in cooperation with the National Ballet of Kosovo and the soloists, under the direction of Nikolin Gurakuqi and under the direction of Edon Ramadani, gave powerful emotions to the public tonight", Minister Çeku wrote on social networks. The ministry he heads has this week reopened the competition for the opera and ballet theater facility, a month after the previous competition failed. He also put a price on it: 50 million euros. The staging of "Goca..." alone cost 300 euros.

"You find us again without an opera and ballet house..."

The deputy director of the Kosovo Opera, Meriton Ferizi, has said that this time too they managed to improvise and adapt another stage as an opera house.

"We are still without opera and ballet houses, but with this hall we were able to improvise and adapt it to look like a theater with all the stage, direction, roles and the wonderful audience for which we did not have room for everyone. Even for the rerun, all the tickets have been sold, but we have the show in the repertoire and we will show it in the second part of the year, not only in Kosovo, but also in Albania and Macedonia", said Ferizi.

Often love in the opera is a phrase dedicated to a countryman.

The writer Ag Apolloni has estimated that some interventions should be made in the composition and in the verses.

"It was also interesting as a book written and beautifully inspired by the novel. However, some interventions should probably be made, especially in the composition and verses. But in general I think that he communicated well with the public", said Apolloni while saying that the work does not lack aesthetic values.

"A historical work both as a novel and as an opera, so with historical values. There are also aesthetic values. It is one of the works that has left a mark on Albanian culture, especially in Kosovo", said Apolloni, also the leader of the publishing house "BardBooks", which this month brought the work "Goca e Kaçaniku" by Milto Sotir Gurrë, written in 1911. He dedicated it to religion. of Albanianism.

Love for the homeland echoes even when the opera ends. "Kaçanik's oyster" was applauded for a long time. Even for the fact that it marks a chapter of history with multiple weight.