Slovenian musicals - Early days, but inspiring and varied

Photo: Musical Cvetje v jeseni archives

Over the last few years Slovenian audiences have been captivated by the musicals Cvetje v jeseni (Flowers in Autumn), Vesna and Veronika Deseniška. These are notable as the first Slovenian musicals,at least one of which has definitely been seen by every Slovenian.

All three musical are all love stories, but are placed in very different settings. A farm environment and the love of homeland, spring awakening and first youthful love, and the love of a girl who sacrifices herself for her love and the people.

Professing love for the homeland

Meta (Nina Pušlar) and Janez (Matjaž Robavs). Photo: Musical Cvetje v jeseni archives

At centre stage of the musical Cvetje v jeseni is the love story between the city lawyer Janez and the farm girl Meta, who dies in his arms when he courts her love.

Although the tale of Cvetje v jeseni, which was written by Ivan Tavčar, is essentially a love story, it also has a dimension of national consciousness – professing a love of the homeland. 

Ivan Tavčar’s work is therefore not merely a literary idealisation of rustic folk as the guardians of the Slovenian language and tradition; it can also be read as an idiosyncratic appeal for an awakening of national consciousness, an appeal for reconciliation and connection among Slovenians. The novel Cvetje v jeseni is also important in ethnological terms. In it, as in the musical, there are precise descriptions of farm tasks, village courtship, dance and singing, thus showing the essence of being Slovenian in this context.

The life and spirit written into the novel provides an excellent basis for the musical. Meta is a shy, but happy and genuine girl, with a wonderful heart capable of pure love. She also dies for love, living it and embodying it to the full. Janez respects her and is himself a big-hearted man who gives precedence to the goodness and honesty of a woman, and not to her refinement, education, popularity or status. He is also prepared to change his way of life for Meta, and after she dies he holds her in loving memory as irreplaceable. 

The musical features more than 20 songs, of which the majority are original, while some were drawn by the creative team from the treasury of Slovenian folk music. It has been sung and acted by 18 performers, with the accompaniment of a symphony orchestra conducted by Simon Dvoršak. Choreographer Miha Krušič linked traditional Slovenian dances to the modern day. Of the dance scenes, one of the finest is the presentation of the mowers and the power of love. 

The role of Janez is played by the opera soloist Matjaž Robavs, alternating with Domen Križaj, while Meta is portrayed by pop singer Nina Pušlar and the actress Maja Martina Merljak.

Slovenian Romeo and Juliet

The backdrop to the musical Veronika Deseniška is the Old Castle of Celje, the tallest medieval fortification in Slovenia. It is a story of the struggle for power, political intrigues, popular uprisings and the immortal love of Veronika and friderik. Photo: Rok Deželak

The musical Veronika Deseniška(Veronika of Desenice) is a production built on a tragedy, and a story based on historical facts. 

The tale of Veronika Deseniška and the married Friderik II of Celje is Slovenia’s own Romeo and Juliet, and ranks as one of the finest Slovenian epics. 

Veronika Deseniška was supposedly born around 1380, and was the second wife of Friderik II of Celje (the wedding was thought to have been in 1424 or 1425). The trial of Veronika Deseniška was the first recorded witchcraft trial in Slovenia. She was killed by drowning at some time between 1425 and 1427, although there is no precise information on the events.

At the forefront of the production is the love between the unhappily married Friderik and the charismatic noblewoman of a lesser house, Veronika Deseniška. A random meeting between them sparks an affinity which develops into love. Friderik’s wife Elizabeta Frankopanska is aware of their relationship, and she brings Veronika to the princely court as her lady-in-waiting. Since the girl has increasingly captured the attention of her husband, Elizabeta resorts to poison. She calls for Veronika and offers her two cups, in one of which is poison, saying that she will drink whichever one the girl doesn’t. Veronika survives, but Elizabeta dies. Her death enrages the family, with which the Count of Celje, Herman II (Friderik’s father) has already had tense relations for some time. He accuses Veronika of witchcraft, but upon her touching speech he pardons her. Yet Herman nevertheless persists in the belief that Veronika should be punished. Veronika ultimately admits guilt only to save Desenice and its inhabitants from ruin. She is drowned at the hands of the knight Jošt.

Appearing in the main roles are: Eva Černe and Biba Novak (Veronika Deseniška), Klemen Bunderle and Srđan Milovanovič (Friderik II of Celje), Marjan Bunič and Matija Bizjan (Herman II of Celje) and Željka Predojević and Maša Tiselj (Elizabeta Frankopanska). The music was composed by Leon Firšt.

Spring in the sighs of love

The film Vesna (1953), which inspired the musical, was special since it was about the urban middle class, it was light and had no ideological charge. Photo: Ljubljana Festival archives

In contrast to Cvetje v jeseni (Flowers in Autumn), the musical Vesna is a light and entertaining story created out of the 1950s film hit Vesna, made in the golden age of Hollywood. 

It is a tale of school-leavers, spring and love. The story takes place along a Ljubljana street called Letališka cesta (Airport Street), where there was once indeed an airfield. In spring, when the sunshine starts to sparkle, when nature dresses itself in seductive colours and love is in the air, the school-leavers are forced to bury their heads in their books and cram for exams. But our three heroes, Samo, Krištof and Sandi, are sure there is an easier way to succeed in the exams. They come up with a short cut involving Hyperbola, the daughter of their strict maths teacher, Professor Cosine. The formula they concoct is, win the heart of Hyperbola, and then get their hands on the exam papers. But what happens if our three bright sparks put the wrong unknown into their equation? The girl who turns up for the date isn't the girl they thought was the teacher's daughter. The consequences of this sweet error are the thread from which the story of Vesna – adapted from director František Čap’s romantic comedy – is woven. 

The script  for the musical Vesna, which follows the story of the Slovenian film, was written by Janez Usenik. The musical includes 24 original compositions. It is choreographed by Miha Krušič. The main rolesare played by Flora Ema Lotrič (Vesna), Robert Korošec alternating with Klemen Bunderla (Samo), Boštjan Korošec (Sandi) and Srdjan Milovanovič (Krištof). The director is Vojko Anzeljc, and the music composed by Matjaž Vlašič.

Text by Tanja Glogovčan