VILNIUS - "All happy families resemble one another, but each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." These are the first words of Leo Tolstoy's hauntingly poignant novel Anna Karenina. In short, the story follows the fate of a group of families, all struggling for happiness. They are united by the charismatic character of Anna, a well-liked noblewoman.
Considered by many to be Tolstoy's finest achievement, Anna Karenina is quite possibly one of the most iconic novels of the nineteenth century. This simple tale of a love affair is infused with rich portrayals of Russian high society, politics and religion.
Today, Anna's tragic love story will be told through ballet and music at the National Opera and Ballet House on Nov. 30. Lithuania's prima ballerina, Egle Spokaite, will play the title role, and has already been described as a "triumph" by both by critics and authors of the ballet.
Anna Karenina was first performed as a ballet in 1972 in Moscow. This performance featured Russia's beloved ballerina Maya Plisetskaya, who soon went on to perform Anna Karenina in Vilnius.
During the much-anticipated Baltic performance, a tiny girl named Egle sat quietly in the Opera House audience. Reflecting on her childhood, Spokaite says the performance was so inspiring that she experienced her first theatrical catharsis. Having become an internationally recognized ballerina, Spokaite intends to repeat Plisetskaya's success in this season's production.
Undoubtedly the queen of Lithuanian ballet, Spokaite was born in Vilnius in 1971 and graduated from the Vilnius School of Choreography. From every point of view, she is a perfect, beautiful and graceful ballerina. The dancer possesses an inspiring ability to mimic and is full of magical charm.
Both Plisetskaya and Rodion Shchedrin, her husband and the composer of Anna Karenina, told reporters in Vilnius that Spokaite was one of the best ballet dancers in the world. "The audience will definitely like the performance," Shchedrin said.
The story of Anna Karenina unfolds when Anna travels to Moscow for her brother's marriage, where she meets the dashing Count Vronsky. The man remains a painful part of her life.
At the time, Anna was a vibrant, young Russian noblewoman trapped in a passionless marriage with a much older man, Karenin. She soon begins a disastrous love affair with Vronsky. Ultimately, the liaison threatens to destroy four lives: Anna's, Karenin's, Vronsky's, and that of Anna's young son. The secret bond between Anna and the count is eventually revealed under tragic circumstances.
A plot as theatrical as this deserves an opulent setting: Anna Karenina's outstanding stage-scenery was created by former opera singer Dane Mikeal Melbey. The artist has combined existing stage details with video projections to create a visual masterpiece that rivals the ballet itself. More than 20 scenes elegantly transform into one another, accompanying the characters' drama. Video projections move the audience through a series of locations that artistically reflect Anna Karenina's epoch.
When it comes to costumes, Melbey doesn't follow historical authenticity. This is because he doesn't want to distract the audience's attention, the designer explains. Therefore, he skilfully arranged about two-and-a-half kilometres of light silk to create stylized costumes for the dancers.
The Ballet House orchestra and National Opera also contribute to the production's richness with their live musical accompaniment.
The haunting ballet will no doubt offer a delicious spectacle. Spokaite's sensual and expressive talent alone is enough to impress.
Ballet Anna Karenina National Opera and Ballet House
Tickets: 15-170 litas (4-50 euros)