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Feast of Ballet and Opera

By Howard Jarvis. 28.11.2010

at the opera
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We look at the coming year of highlights at the Latvian National Opera.

A new season of breathtaking ballet and opera is underway at the Latvian National Opera, with standards once again comparable if not surpassing those found elsewhere in Europe. Any visit to Riga should entertain the possibility of an evening at the LNO, which is located prominently in a classical structure in a park on the edge of the Old Town, and there is plenty to look forward to throughout the year.
Five new productions – three operas and two ballets – are being staged during this 2010-11 season. The biggest operatic event this side of Christmas is the premiere on December 3 of a new production of “Eugene Onegin”, the Tchaikovsky opera based on Pushkin’s tragic love story.
Staged again on December 5, 17 and 19 and on regular dates next year, the production enlists the talents of the outstanding young Russian conductor Mikhail Tatarnikov, the imaginative Latvian artist Katrina Neiburga and internationally acclaimed fashion designers Marite Mastina and Rolands Peterkops. Kristine Opolais, who performs at leading international houses such as the Munich State Opera and Milan’s La Scala, plays the role of Tatyana.
Another production with a Tchaikovsky score can be experienced in Riga this season as the Russian composer’s sweeping music brings Tolstoy’s well-known tale “Anna Karenina” to life. The astounding choreography by Boris Eifman, halfway between dance theater and classic ballet, was originally created for the St Petersburg Ballet. The body-dance language reflects the characters and their inner emotional conflicts in an often merciless way. In a sign of the LNO’s artistic independence, when it announced that it wanted it staged in Riga it insisted on new costumes and new sets being designed.
A slightly more challenging production is the dark and mysterious “The Sandman”, which sets a 19th-century novella to music by Robert Schumann and gives it German choreography with a dance-theater approach. The result is visually haunting and spellbinding.
“Aida” is one of the many operatic highlights this season as it revives a sumptuous production at the Latvian National Opera, the stage resembling a giant abstract painting that evokes the colors and shapes of ancient Egypt. It features a new cast with the promising young soprano Liene Kinča in the title role. She expresses herself with deep emotion, and already agents and directors across Europe are interested in signing her for their own productions.
Another operatic highlight is Puccini’s “Turandot”, in a production from 1973, in which a spectacular set immediately transports the audience almost a thousand years back in time to the imperial palace of China’s Ming Dynasty. If not entirely authentic, it’s certainly visually very strong.
Of the opera premiers this season, Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville” gets a fresh new look courtesy of Aik Karapetian, a prize-winning Armenian film director, leading a talented all-Latvian ensemble.
Another premier, “The Heiress of Vilkači”, set in rural Latvia in 1896, tells a fascinating story of two neighboring estates connected by marriage but also embroiled in envy and even witchcraft. The composer, Bruno Skulte, fled Latvia from the Soviets in the 1940s and wrote the opera in Berlin and New York, but it was never staged during his lifetime. In 2005, the conductor Andrejs Jansons discovered and orchestrated it, and the LNO premier, on June 3, 2011, will be the first time it has ever been presented as a stage version with costumes and sets.
Latvian National Opera, Aspazijas 3 (H-2), Tel. 6707 3777; for full schedules for 2010 and 2011, see opera.lv




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