Carmen brings flame to Kaunas

  • 2005-11-23
  • By Milda Seputyte
KAUNAS - Kaunas is awaiting its biggest cultural event this season: a new staging of the opera "Carmen." On Nov. 30, the largest and most expensive show Kaunas theater has ever seen will come to life.
George Bizet's "Carmen," a tale of passion, jealousy and the odd bullfighter, is set in 19th century Spain, and has become a world-wide classic. The story opens in a cigarette factory and spirals on into the mountains of Spain and a dramatic bullfighting ring. Yet it's the title character who grips audiences with her enticing gypsy charm, and the tragic drama it brings her.

One of the most famous and performed operas of all time, "Carmen" was a true challenge for director Gintas Zilys.

"I was having thoughts about 'Carmen' for nearly 15 years, wondering how to deliver it. All the 'Carmen' productions I'd previously seen showed a banal story 's a temperamental woman who dances on tables, seduces a poor soldier and later impels him into criminal offence," Zilys told journalists.

Yet the director was finally able to find his own take on the story.

"The life of Carmen is corrida. It's unclear what side she's on but she has to make decisions quickly, often in extreme situations," he said. "She doesn't match the definition of traditional femininity. She can't be happy with only a little. Her aspiration is to find a partner with a similar grasp of freedom, or even someone who could surpass her. But when she doesn't find one, her decision is rather logical 's death," Zilnys said.

However, it is worth remembering that the term "opera" means "works"-- a coming together in the efforts of cast, crew, composer, conductor, musicians, costume and set designers. And Kaunas' "Carmen" manages to unite the best musicians and artists of both Kaunas and Vilnius.

Exceptional staging requires an exceptional conductor, and that's where Gintaras Rinkevicius, Lithuania's most reputed conductor, lifts his baton. It's no accident the theater invited Rinkevicius to orchestrate the performance. Although the chief conductor and artistic director of Lithuania's State Symphony Orchestra is a frequent guest at European concert halls, he's rarely been seen in Kaunas: "Carmen" is his first co-production with Kaunas Theater.

Another exceptional artist, costume designer Virginija Idzelyte, has tailored some 200 costumes for the show, so that each soloist can change their attire at least four times per production. Idzelyte's costumes are true to the Opera's original time period, and a work within themselves.

As only could be expected, the vocal talents of this company are astonishing. The likes of Inesa Linaburgyte, Vytautas Juozapaitis, Algirdas Janutas bring the production to a first-class European level.

Given the number of stars working on the new project, it is unlikely that Kaunas's "Carmen" will follow the fate of Bizet's production: Legend tells that it was a complete failure on opening night, with the press tearing it to shreds. The criticism hit Bizet so hard, the story goes, that he died three months later - hardly the success he had imagined.

George Bizet's "Carmen"

Nov. 30, 6 p.m.

Kaunas State Musical Theatre

Tel: 370 37 200933