VILNIUS ' "Rock opera" and "Soviet times" are hardly expressions that go hand in hand. Rock music was always regarded with deep suspicion, if not outright hostility, by the Soviet censors, and it never exactly fit in with Soviet ideology. So when the Lithuanian composer Giedrius Kuprevicius was granted permission in 1970 to stage the first Lithuanian rock musical "Ugnies medziokle su varovais" (Hunting the Fire in Roundups), it seemed almost a miracle.
"It could be called a dissident project: the Soviet government - always suspicious about novelties - associated rock music as a musical genre with individual freedom, pacifism and the hippy movement, which promoted disdain against the regime," Kuprevicius said of his revived show.
The new version of "Ugnies medziokle su varovais," which came out last December after being confined to obscurity for more than 20 years, is no less astonishing seen in a modern light. The bizarre ensemble of singing and dancing pioneers dressed in brown and dark-blue school-uniforms, the collective farm settings and the imposing Soviet military uniforms all make you wonder if you haven't accidentally entered a time warp.
The overall effect is only added to by the fact that the production is staged at that creepy "masterpiece" of Stalinist-style architecture, the Pergale movie theater. The gigantic cinema hasn't changed a bit over the years, and its strangely atmospheric interior still boasts authentic chandeliers, grim wallpaper and an exclusive balcony for the Communist Party heads and their heavies.
Those who attended the cinema a couple of decades ago say that the only difference between then and now is that the venue is actually heated these days and the surfaces dusted down.
The story itself is simple enough, as you'd expect of any musical. Monika, a recent university graduate, is assigned to become a teacher in a remote collective farm.
As you couldn't choose your job or place of residence in those days, the already-pregnant Monika leaves her beloved boyfriend Rolandas behind and takes a train to her new home-to-be.
On her way there, Monika meets a soldier called Julius, who falls in love with the girl and asks her to marry him. Despite her strong feelings for Rolandas, Monika accepts Julius' proposal. A messy love triangle soon ensues, and it all ends tragically when Monnika dies while giving birth to her child.
It might all seem like a Soviet-era soap opera, but keeping in mind the stringent Soviet censorship, this musical really was something of an achievement at the time. People absolutely loved it.
The actors used to perform "Ugnies medziokle su varovais" 10 times a month, sometimes even as often as two or three shows a day. The lyrics were translated into Latvian, Estonian, Ukrainian and Russian, and the theater toured the whole of what was in those days a rather enormous country
In a different way, the show is also attracting considerable admiration this time around. The organizers had to arrange additional shows this year to accommodate the public's enthusiasm for it. The director of the new version, Gytis Padegimas, characterized the extraordinary fascination with the musical as "ostalgia," a newly coined word that describes nostalgia for the Soviet years.
Ostalgia could be part of the reason why "Ugnies medziokle su varovais" has proven so popular second time around, but the music also has to take some credit for the show's success.
For many, the Soviet-era style rock still sounds as good as it did then, and some of the tunes from the show have been playing constantly on Lithuanian radio. Andrew Lloyd-Weber, eat your heart out.
Pamenkalnio 7, Vilnius
Tickets: 30 litas (8.50 euros)
- 80 litas
For more info tel:
(370) 5 261 73 33