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Université de Montréal

Portrait of a researcher

[Translate to English:] Ana Sokolović

Operation Opera

Ana Sokolović

According to many historians, the first opera performance was Claudio Monteverdi’s Orfeo in 1607. More than 400 years later, Orfeo is still performed regularly. Ana Sokolović has nothing against it. But she would like to see more attention paid to contemporary opera. “Since the birth of cinema at the beginning of the 20th century, opera has languished,” says Sokolović. “There has been no innovation in the recent past. From the end of the 19th century to the 21st century, there’s an operatic vacuum. It’s time we began filling it.”

Sokolović is using her Canada Research Chair in Opera Creation to find the answers to some hard questions about where contemporary opera should go: “What contemporary artistic or technological knowledge can we draw on to bring opera into the 21st century? We can’t keep using the same romantic—and often misogynistic—tropes. Or, if we do, we have to make them relevant to today’s world.” How can we offer a fresh take on Orpheus in a way that reflects current challenges, such as climate change, the migration crisis, and gender diversity?

Much has changed since Monteverdi. “Technology has made it possible for opera to transcend the stage,” says Sokolović. She and her team are working on an audacious new concept: during the 2024–2025 season, the Opéra de Montréal will present five 15-minute operas in virtual reality. Viewers will be able to download an app to their tablet or smartphone, and for a fraction of the cost of a regular ticket, attend the performance virtually. Sokolović’s guiding principles are modernity, democratization and accessibility. “I don’t mean to imply that the opera house is obsolete,” she says. “We just have to find a way to stay relevant in the 21st century. Maybe we’ll invent a whole new art form!”

Where does your passion for opera come from?

I was born in Belgrade, Yugoslavia [now Serbia]. I had a solid education in the arts: four years of classical ballet, then piano, and theatre—a lot of theatre. Over the years, I’ve tried my hand at everything from acting, costumes, lighting and staging to music. Knowing about every aspect of the performing arts has enabled me to bring a holistic understanding and theatrical vision to opera, which is the total art form.

Unlike countries such as Italy and Germany, Canada is not known as a land of opera. Why create a research chair in opera creation?

It’s just not true! We perform to sold-out houses. People are curious. And especially in Montreal, we have a unique concentration of artists. They are among the best directors, lighting designers, costume designers and stage techs in the world. We also have plenty of amazing voices in Quebec. If we can connect all of these people and funnel all of this talent into making opera contemporary and relevant, the results will be fantastic!