Vilnius welcomes a Polish team to mount a new production of Carmen
Autor: Julija Kalpokiene
When the Opera and Ballet Theatre last year put on its production of Red Giselle by Boris Eifman, it seemed that some time would have to pass before audiences would again be amazed by such an extraordinary premiere.
However, it did not take so long. A group of Polish artists who staged Bizet's Carmen in Vilnius once again proved that opera can delight not only through well-performed music but also through dynamic action and breathtaking images.
Premiere of the Year
The opera theatre had already staged Carmen, one of the world's most popular operas, eight times. Liutauras Balciunas, artistic director and chief conductor, was inspired for the ninth production by the version put on by Lech Majewski at the Polish National Opera in Warsaw a few years ago.
"I was fascinated: the stage was permanently bustling with activity and motion," he says. "It was a masterly combination of music and images."
He invited to Vilnius the same group of four Polish artists who have worked together for many years, three of whom have lived and worked in the USA now for the last 20 years.
This Carmen differs in many ways from the Warsaw production. One of these is the set, which to transport from one of Europe's largest opera stages to the small one in Vilnius would not have been possible technically. However, the producers themselves were pleased with the chance to create a more metaphysical and mysterious set and atmosphere for the play.
The production is unusual in that it has been mounted practically without any cuts, keeping to Bizet's score with particular fidelity.
"Most of the opera is supposed to be performed piano, although usually nearly all the quiet pieces are sung loudly," Balciunas says. "Technically, it requires immense skill from the singers."
It is a good opportunity for the company to show its full range of abilities. Sung in French (productions in French are very rare in Vilnius), nearly all the key parts are played by members of the company.
"I don't like clearly expressed meanings. A performance for me must contain some mystery," says Majewski, who allowed each of the three soloists playing Carmen to explore the character in their own way.
"I did not want to stick a label on the role, and say what Carmen should be like. It had to come about of its own accord. Every person is different, combining light and dark colours.
"Creation is a mysterious process, without any predetermination. It should look as if a show has been plucked out of the darkness and put on the stage."
Between Spectacle and Music
It would be difficult to say whether Majewski is more of a poet or a painter, a writer or producer, director or composer, as he has been successful in expressing himself in all these genres. Having begun as a scriptwriter and director of feature films in the late 1970s, he has also published three collections of verse and written stories.
The film Flight of the Spruce Goose, based on one of his stories, became his debut in America in 1985. In cooperation with David Lynch's studio, in 1990, he produced the film The Gospel According to Harry, to his own screenplay, in Hollywood; and later Basquiat, in New York, featuring Gary Oldman, Dennis Hopper, and David Bowie as Andy Warhol. In 1999, his film Wojaczek beat all his previous records at festivals, and won 20 prizes.
Throughout his career, Majewski, never abandoning film and the theatre, has kept returning to music, as well. His production of Penderecki's Ubu Rex, staged at the Lodz Theatre in 1993, drew him into the world of opera. The postmodernist opera The Black Rider, written by Bob Wilson, Tom Waits and William Burroughs, which he put on in Germany a year later, was recognised by German critics as the best-directed work in 1994/1995; while the Polish National Opera started its 1995 season with his Carmen. The French magazine Opera International chose that as one of the most significant events in opera in the world.
"Usually operas are valued for the music, but are not so strong on the visual side," Majewski says. "But opera is the only form of art where there is still some space left for creativity in these commercialised times. I think that those who write and produce operas work the hardest of all artists."
He is entitled to make this claim, because in 1996 he tried his hand as a composer too. His autobiographical opera, The Roe's Room, based on poems written in his youth, in addition to all its other awards, was recognised by the International Theatre Institute as one of the 12 best modern operas composed between 1995 and 1998, out of 500 possible works.