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Differences in Demolitions

In the Country where I live
when a house has to be torn down

few workers arrive with a contract,
tear down the house in a few days and leave
and later nobody remembers anymore the names of those
who lived there until yesterday.

In the Country I came from
before the house is torn down
an armed police squad arrives
and an ambulance for someone who might want
to die grieving under the demolished roof
beneath which he was born long ago.
For months afterwards even the children avoid the place
where once there was a house
because of the ghosts of ancestors who moan
from the spiderwebs and weeds.
There the demolition ball is heavy as a curse.

In the Country I came from
the chief of the demolition squad was a certain pauper Ivo,
the man without a family but with a pistol in his belt.
For thirty years as he gathered curses,
he'd take a few bricks from each demolished house.
Later he built himself a house with those bricks.

That house is still in place
because nobody lives there anymore,
because the pauper Ivo is now a simple manual labourer
in a squad of people who build houses
in the Country where I live now.

Goran Simic


Nigel Osborne Differences in Demolitions

Goran Simic
Lenka Udovicki director


Opera Circus
Susan Bisatt
Monica Brett-Crowther
Andy Morton
Robert Rice
Mladen Vasar


Mostar Sinfonietta
Rada Pesut
Aidan Burke
Belma Alic
Merima Kljuco
Neyire Ashworth
Toni Pesikan

City of London Festival at Wilton's Music Hall London 12 July 2007

Nigel Osborne, contemporary composer and professor at Edinburgh, has involved himself in various educational projects abroad. I attended a CoMA course in Bretton Hall at which he workshopped a group 'composition' based upon sculptures in the adjacent Yorkshire Sculpture Park.

Concern for victims of the Bosnian war has led him to explore the rich musical world of Sevdah and to creation of this notable chamber opera, which was premiered recently in Mostar in Bosnia, and will possibly be touring in UK next year.

The dreamlike, allusive story began and ended with emigre workers in the West knocking down a wall on a demolition site and, reversing the process, re-assembling it at the end. Though some have found it feeble and rudimentary, and a 'worthy if only intermittently successful effort', others were (as we) captivated and engrossed throughout by its "operatic magic realism in which reality bleeds into fantasy" (The Times).

Traditional sevdah music was adapted by Osborne, who created a unique amalgam, sung by an able cast and played superbly by a six-piece ensemble; the total effect aptly characterised by Erica Jeal in The Guardian: The language of sevdah may not be Osborne's own, but he is very convincingly himself when writing in it.

The cast was well differentiated, acted and sung excellently, headed by Robert Rice as a demolition worker, Hasan, who dreamt of the past (or a future back in his homeland?), with a witch who weaves a magical family scarf which is divided amongst three sons and the parts eventually brought back together. Hasan, the protagonist, ultimately 'begins to pass from ghost-life to non-existence'.

Members of Opera Circus double eight roles; there are disguises, a slapstick scene between a policeman and an acrobatic scoundrel, etc etc. The cost-conscious production and costuming was imaginative; the paper skirts illustrated rustle deliciously!

At Wilton's, Differences in Demolitions was given in English, with a synopsis provided which was really too complex for most of us to absorb beforehand. Hasan reaches back into the world of his ancestors and the piece laments destruction of Bosnian homes. The six part ensemble, including accordion and Bosnian percussion, gave constant pleasure. The singers' articulation was generally good, but - as is so often the way with opera - not sufficiently so to make all clear without sur-titles, as ENO has reluctantly come to accept. Endeavouring to understand and decipher the course of the action takes too much attention from the whole.

Wilton's - itself half way between demolition and regeneration - proved to be the ideal venue. Near the Tower of London, it continues to provide from time to time some of the most innovative work to be seen and heard in the capital.

We found the whole thing absorbing and, in retrospect, haunting. If there had been more performances during the festival, we would have tried to see it again, if possible studying beforehand the poem on which it is based and Goran Simic's libretto - as used to be the norm for opera at Bayreuth and elsewhere.

We felt that this is a work with long-term viability, and it would lend itself marvellously to DVD (q.v. The Mysteries at Wilton's in 2002/3).

There is a possbility of Differences in Demolitions being performed in Vienna during the autumn and maybe touring in UK next year (dates to be confirmed); keep in touch with Opera Circus' website.

Peter Grahame Woolf