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Girls just want to have fun in SF Opera Lab’s ‘Svadba-Wedding’

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Jacqueline Woodley, center, plays a bride-to-be in “Svadba-Wedding,” a chamber opera onstage at the new Taube Atrium Theater. (Courtesy Stefan Cohen/San Francisco Opera)

If the new SF Opera Lab were looking for a suitable candidate for the intimate Taube Atrium Theater, it could find few better matches than “Svadba–Wedding,” a delightful and moving chamber opera by Serbian composer Ana Sokolovic.

At Saturday night’s West Coast premiere of “Svadba-Wedding,” the stage was circular, and tables and chairs surrounded it — an arrangement like one at a wedding, or in this case, a bachelorette party leading up to one.

Sung a cappella, in Serbian, conducted by Dairine Ní Mheadhra, and directed by Michael Cavanagh (who helmed San Francisco Opera’s “Lucia di Lammermoor” in October), the opera is about a bride-to-be and her five girlfriends who exuberantly enjoy themselves in ways so familiarly universal, the audience can relate to what’s going on, even if they don’t understand Serbian. (However, supertitles are tastefully projected.)

Jacqueline Woodley, fetching and radiantly voiced, portrays bride-to-be Milica. Her pre-nuptial synchronized sisterhood of Slavonic song includes clear-voiced and charming Laura Albino as Lena, Andrea Ludwig as Nada, Krisztina Szabo as Ljubica, Liesbeth Devos as Danica and Pauline Sikirdji as Zora.

Their playful girl talk boasts an attention-grabbling mix of vocal methods: sublimely hushed tones, nonsensical yet rhythmic chatter and lush chants derived from Serbian folk tunes, all judiciously supplemented by various percussion instruments.

They’re no static girl group, either. They move between alcoves in the theater, occasionally weaving their way through the audience.

The ladies imbibe, bolstering the celebratory mood as well as suggesting that lips will be loose. Sure enough, a dramatic, alcohol-fueled spat ensues between Milica and Ljublca. (They touchingly reconcile.)

Each friend sparks a lesson for Milica, including how marriage can irrevocably change one’s life. The key pivot is symbolized when the women change into wedding attire, and Zora (which fittingly means “dawn” in Serbian) plays an ocarina and sings like a nightingale to announce the dawn of a new day and relationship.

Finally, the ladies reassemble center stage, with Milica shimmering in her gown and towering over her maids of honor. As the groom and his party are about to arrive, Milica, in an achingly beautiful aria, bids farewell to her friends, who join her wistful song, but must recede from her new life and into the theater’s antechamber.

It was an emotionally charged scene, one that visibly moved the audience, which was noticeably younger than usual for an opera.

Perhaps imaginative, inviting productions like “Svadba-Wedding” will keep them coming back for more.

Presented by SF Opera Lab
Where: Taube Atrium Theater, Veterans Building, 401 Van Ness Ave., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. April 5-6, April 8-9 and 3 p.m. April 10
Tickets: $75
Contact: (415) 864-3330, www.sfoperalab.com

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