Imagine a warm summer night in the enchanting village of Vrlika, nestled in the most picturesque hinterland of coastal Croatia. Well, this one was even better. However, a complete disaster threatened to cancel the show an hour or so before it started.
As I arrived at the centre, I discovered a typical local festivity atmosphere: people sharing their stories, kids playing around, and local entrepreneurs, artists and family households presenting and selling some of their produce.
From the centre, walking down the alley to the famous Vrlička Česma (Vrlika Fountain), the vivid atmosphere and melodious music filled the air. It is here, amidst the tranquil beauty of the forrest fountain that the stage is traditionally set within the famous Split summer festival. I had the extraordinary opportunity to witness a captivating performance of the beloved Croatian opera – “Ero s onoga svijeta.”
Vrlička Česma, a charming fountain in the heart of Vrlika, served as an idyllic stage for the opera because it is the very place which inspired Begović for his libretto. Surrounded by tall trees and the gentle murmur of water and arriving audience, the fountain exuded a rustic charm, perfectly complementing the rural setting of the opera. The open-air venue added a touch of authenticity, transporting everyone back to the time and place depicted in the story.
From the fountain to the orchestra tuning their instruments and the stage setting
Milan Begović, born in the later 19th century in Vrlika, was a prominent Croatian writer, playwright, and dramatist. It is the libretto for this very opera that he is mainly recognised. Begović had a diverse and accomplished writing career; although he studied law in Vienna, he soon turned to literature and began writing poetry, short stories, and plays. His early works often portrayed the struggles of rural life and the people of Dalmatia, drawing inspiration from the region’s folk traditions and cultural heritage. As a playwright, Begović’s plays showcased his wit, humour, and keen observation of human nature. He explored a wide range of themes, including social issues and political satire, all while infusing his works with the unique characteristics of the Dalmatian dialect and mentality. The most famous one is The American Yacht in Split Harbour, written in 1930.
Indeed, one can say that Begović’s work was significantly elevated in the public consciousness by the composition of this opera for his libretto by Jakov Gotovac—a highly esteemed Croatian composer, conductor, and music educator. Still, this opera also brought fame to Gotovac, so feelings and benefits were mutual. Additionally, Gotovac’s compositions were profoundly influenced by Croatia’s rich musical traditions, particularly Dalmatia’s folk music, allowing him to celebrate the cultural heritage of his homeland by incorporating local melodies and rhythms into his music.
“Ero s onoga svijeta” weaves a tale of romance, humour, and otherworldly adventures set in an 18th-century Croatian village. The story revolves around the charming and mischievous Ero who, thanks to his mother, invents a story of heavenly confusion, which results in his return to Earth after his untimely death, all to verify the authenticity of a girl’s love for him due to his wealth. Determined to win the heart of the beautiful soprano – Đula (Jula), Ero’s playful antics and supernatural abilities lead to comical and amorous situations. The opera explores themes of love, fate, traditions, and the interplay between the human and supernatural realms, captivating the audience with its spirited plot.
As the orchestra tuned their instruments, anticipation filled the air. The first notes of the overture resonated, instantly transporting us into the world of Ero and his fellow villagers. The talented cast, adorned in period costumes, breathed life into the vibrant characters, their voices soaring through the night. The playful banter between Ero and Đula, the tender arias, and the energetic choral performances filled the atmosphere with joy and enchantment.
The outdoor setting added an extra dimension to the performance. The starry sky above, the gentle breeze rustling through the trees, and the flickering glow of lanterns created an immersive experience. As the moon rose high, it seemed to lend its radiance to the magical tale unfolding before us, enhancing the emotional impact of the opera.
The audience was a diverse mix of locals and visitors from nearby towns, united by a shared love for culture and the arts. Laughter, applause, and heartfelt sighs punctuated the night as the opera took us on a rollercoaster of emotions. The collective experience of witnessing this timeless masterpiece amidst the rustic charm of Vrlika created a sense of camaraderie and connection. It was a reminder of art’s power to unite people, transcending language and borders.
Closed circle dances are a local tradition, most of which is the renowned Silent circle dance – a UNESCO intangible heritage, originally called Nijemo kolo that is incorporated in this opera’s final act. After Ero reveals who he really is, and Đula’s father approves of their relationship, the celebration begins – something in which this nation is exceptional.
The culmination – 1. clip – tune it up.
The culmination – 2. clip
The close – 3. clip
My evening at Vrlička Česma, where “Ero s onoga svijeta” came to life, was nothing short of magical. The combination of a captivating performance, the Dalmatian hinterland’s rustic beauty, and the audience’s communal spirit created an unforgettable experience. As the final notes echoed through the night, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of gratitude for the opportunity to witness such a unique cultural event.
The collaboration of top artists, writers, and musicians gave birth to one of the most enchanting operas in Slavic musical literature. Bursting with beautiful folk songs and sparkling satire, this opera brings to life characters with true virtues and flaws on the vibrant stage. The captivating plot revolves around the rich peasant Mica, who disguises himself as if from another world to test the loyalty and temper of the girl he loves, leading to a series of comical situations and captivating plots.
The opera’s final dance is a joyful spectacle that leaves no one indifferent. The dance, accompanied by the rich and colorful Vrlika costumes, weaves together harmonious colors, movements, and songs, a testament to the enduring traditions of the Croatian people. Since its premiere in Zagreb on October 2, 1935, with Jakov Gotovac’s musical composition, the opera has been performed countless times, translated into nine languages, and staged in over 80 European venues. It stands tall as the most frequently performed and renowned Croatian opera worldwide.