Voranc (1978) concludes our series of audio plays by Dane Zajc. It is considered one of the best Slovenian plays, a claim that was confirmed by the world premiere shortly after the play was written, in the 1979/80 season at the SNT Ljubljana Drama. Directed by Mile Korun, the cast included Polde Bibič (Voranc), Štefka Drolc (Neža), Dare Valič (Jernej), Lojze Rozman (Žagar), Radko Polič (Murovčan), Majda Potokar (Katra) and Janez Albreht (Simon). Ten years later, Mile Korun staged Voranc again at the Primorsko Drama Theatre in Nova Gorica.
The world of Voranc is harsh and unforgiving. The play is set in the month of March, when the supplies of winter food, firewood and water have run out, and so have human warmth and love. The landscape somehow evokes the inhospitality and loneliness of Kálevála. However, Voranc is not demoted to mythology, but rather, and uncharacteristically clear for Zajc, it is located in an authentic setting of a lonely hill farm in the middle of barren ravines, where the struggle for survival has been going on for centuries. As in his subsequent play Kálevála, Zajc hints at the possibility of a way out for the next generation, although it continues to be plagued by a family curse causing a tragic ending. Voranc could be called a paradigmatic Slovenian tragedy, as the nodes of the fundamental thematic threads of Slovenian literature intersect in it. The basic plot revolves around family relations: the rift between generations, infused with hatred between fathers and sons, between mothers and sons, and between brothers; the rift between spouses, disconnected by silent reticence, the declining power of traditional values, the inability to provide shelter for the torn identities of the modern world; the powerlessness of the new generation to carve a different life for itself. A lonely hill farm is in a dire need of a successor, but there is none, because the new generation sees no future in steep ravines and bleak peasant life. Old values such as honesty, hard work and honour are gnawed to the bone by time and life. The new generation, embodied in the play by Jernej, yearns for the excitement of life, new opportunities, the possibility of (quick, illicit) earnings, as well as for romantic adventures and desires. The world of Voranc and Neža, though apparently solid, is extremely harsh, desolate and unattractive in the emptiness of its ancient nature. The values of this world are not represented by love, but by an emotionless sense of duty, a notorious attachment to the (barren) earth and a stubborn silence.
The story is set during the Second War, which, with its invincible forces of discord, acts as a clear point of identification in Slovenian history, as well as in the traditional enigmatic nature of family relationships. Two sons take different paths, one is in the army, the other, Jernej, is a loner. The central event is the theft of Žagar’s horse, linked to Jernej’s smuggling. The real action of the play focuses on Voranc and Žagar chasing an unknown perpetrator. It transpires he is Voranc’s son Jernej. Their quest is constantly interrupted by premonitions, reminiscences and dreams, infused by singular motifs of the play. Voranc denounces Jernej to the Germans and thus loses a child, his second, since his first son died in the war. He also loses Neža, who, grieving her latest bereavement, declares to fall silent for good. In this play, the curse is cyclical, passing from one generation to the next and becoming more excruciating with each generation. The protagonists resemble ancient statues, representing tragic fates and inimitable symbols, signifying extreme, tormenting and tearing feelings. In the tectonic changes of the post-war period, questions are raised about the decay of identity, sense of belonging and values. These are issues that are highlighted in every period of crisis or big turning points, which is also the reality of the present moment.
The linguistic structure of Voranc by Dane Zajc is based on the ballad tradition. Instead of a straightforward narration of the story, we follow a patchwork of fragments. The action is cyclical; past, present and future are subordinated to an understanding of time as a mythological category, where everything can exist simultaneously or be presented in a sequence that does not follow logic of physics but archetypal patterns.
This is why many parts of the play function as a single whole, or as a poem in itself. The individual sections are made up of verse-narrative-images, each with its own distinctive rhythm. This is subordinated to the parallelism of the elements, which is brought about differently by the structure of the individual sentence structures in each poetic passage. In this respect, the first part of Voranc is characterised by long sentence structures, arranged according to the principle of a canon or psalm, and by sequences of polysyllabic words, which carry strong nominal metaphorics.
The mythologisation of narrative time is brought about by relative clauses, anaphorically opening sentences with like, when, that, but…, They introduce a series of images that become alive by repetition and their circular substance, and static nature of the description of the event; this eschews causal consequence and transforms it into a cyclicality or non-timeliness.
Due to the mosaic structure, which Dane Zajc attains by means of the archetypal and mythological sentence formation, characteristic of ballad poetics, Voranc acts on the unconscious in the reader/listener with equal power as on the perception of vocal, sound and metaphorical expressivity.