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Interview with Composer: Julijana Hajdinjak

We interviewed Julijana Hajdinjak, one of the composers featured at Canadian Opera Fest this June. Her Canadian-Croatian opera, Padajuća Zvijezda, is being premiered by VCO on June 22nd and 23rd in Waterloo and Cambridge.


How has writing your first opera been?

JH: Writing my first opera has been very exciting and a great learning experience. From writing the libretto to finishing the conductor score, it's been a whirlwind of ideas and collaborations. I'd definitely write another one!

What inspired Padajuca Zvijezda?

JH: I've always been intrigued by astronomy, so I was inspired by my sister's short story set in a celestial kingdom. I have a strong Croatian background and wanted to create a work that combined both my Croatian roots and the English language in order to showcase the beauty of both languages.

Croatian is a beautiful language, yet rarely appears in opera. What has the experience been like, setting Croatian text?

JH: Classical Croatian music is generally not well known worldwide despite having produced a large contribution over many centuries. Croatian was my first language, so setting the text was not too difficult of a task. I have sung arias from Croatian operas before, and knew the general dos and don'ts on how to set the text. I found it quite a fun experience to set text that both my sister, Danijela, and I wrote to music in our native language, despite being 2nd generation Croatians living in Canada. I feel quite proud that we were able to do that ourselves, and that we are fluent in the language, seeing that even our parents weren't born in Croatia!

For those who aren’t fluent in Croatian, how will they come to understand the opera?

JH: One of the thoughts I had while writing the opera was definitely the language barrier -- since not everyone on the street is fluent in Croatian! [laughs] The great thing about Padajuća Zvijezda is that it is set in two different worlds -- the star kingdom and earth. This is where the Canadian-Croatian element comes in. One world's occupants sing in Croatian, while the other sings in English.

One character, Luna, the moon, serves as the narrator of the story, since she is neither a resident of the star kingdom or earth -- she is stuck in between both worlds. Luna always sings in English and helps the non-Croatian audience understand the events taking place in the story.

What are some of the major musical devices of the opera? How do they contribute to the piece?

JH: A big musical device is definitely the distinguished sound of both of the worlds -- star kingdom and earth. I strived to make the star kingdom sound more magical and shimmery. In contrast, I wanted earth to sound more grounded. You will definitely hear a difference between the two worlds as the sound world changes, but so does the mood and feeling.

I used a couple of other musical devices as well. Certain characters have certain instruments associated with them, like Luna and Solaris. Luna, the moon, often has a lovely harp accompaniment as she sings. As well as Solaris, the star king and ruler, is often accompanied by heavy brass or low strings.

How has your experience as one of the featured composers of VCO been?

JH: My experience as one of the featured composers of VCO has been great! They have been really organized, and the due dates and rehearsal schedules were so clearly outlined. VCO has provided so many opportunities for composers to be integrated into the rehearsal process, as well as being involved in the vision of their work. As a composer, one of the most rewarding moments is hearing your work performed by talented musicians! It's such a rare opportunity to be given the chance to have a work the size of an opera performed, and I am so grateful to VCO for the opportunity.

Do you have any words of advice or context for the audience that will be viewing your work?

JH: Padajuća Zvijezda is basically a legend and folk-tale of how shooting stars are formed. It's a love story with strong female leads and I think the dual languages really create for a unique experience. I hope those who haven't seen opera before really enjoy the beautiful production, and for those who have seen opera before, I hope they enjoy the beauty of the Croatian language mixed with the English.

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