The Slovenia Times

Šilec putting on Balkan virgins-inspired opera in US


An opera inspired by the life of Balkan sworn virgins will premiere in the US this week in the latest project by Karmina Šilec, the internationally acclaimed Slovenian composer, conductor and director.

Performed by Kitka, a women's vocal ensemble from California, BABA: The Life and Death of Stana will run at Z Space in San Francisco from 23 to 26 February.

The opera is inspired by real and imagined stories of Balkan sworn virgins - women who live as men after taking vows of chastity and celibacy.

This dying tradition is rooted in a centuries-old social code present in remote rural regions of Albania, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo and Serbia.

These women assume life as men because they have lost male relatives to blood feuds or out of desire to escape an oppressive arranged marriage in a patriarchal society.

Drawing on Balkan epic storytelling traditions, BABA explores gender, custom and interpretation of the phenomenon of sworn virgins through a liberal Western gaze.

"We try to address the problematic representations of the phenomenon of sworn virgins and deny the power of generalised images in forming an idea about them," Šilec said about her project.

She feels the dominant "Western narrative" about the sworn virgins is problematic because of the different power "Balkan subjects" and the Western observer have.

The West has an apparent authority to assess Balkan subjects that stems from education and the imbalance of power as a result of politics and economy, she said.

"BABA explores this epistemic superiority of the Western observer over the Balkan 'uniquely violent and honour-obsessed' culture, often sensationalised in the media, anthropological sources, travelogues and popular culture, and offers a critique of the ways in which the Balkans are portrayed, which often seem to be just another example of internalised colonialism," said Šilec.

She developed the multi-genre project BABA over a number of years including with the help of fellowships and residencies at Harvard Radcliffe Institute, the Stellenbosch Institute in South Africa and The Ground Floor at Berkeley Repertory Theater.

Šilec is best known in the US for Toxic Psalms, which premiered at the Prototype Festival in Brooklyn, New York, in 2015. She is the artistic director of Carmina Slovenica, a Maribor-based production company.


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