The culturally rich year of events that comprised the official program of “Riga 2014’’ and its stint as the European Capital of Culture drew to a close in December 2014. Only time will tell whether the impact that the European Capital of Culture had on the city of Riga will continue to help the city flourish. However, Diana Čivle, Head of the “Riga 2014” foundation believes that the next major task for the “Riga 2014” foundation, and the Education, Culture and Sports Department at the Riga City Council: ‘’is to continue the very important development of people opening up to culture we have seen in 2014.’’
The concluding month of Riga 2014 saw the staging of the world premiere of the newly commissioned opera in two acts, Valentina, by the Latvian composer Arturs Maskats at the Latvian National Opera on Dec. 5.
As part of the Latvian Presidency of the Council of the European Union Cultural program, the opera will travel to the Deutsche Oper Berlin in Germany where it will be staged on May 15, 2015.
Valentina is a biographical opera and focuses on the legendary Latvian theatre and film historian Valentina Freimane in both pre-war Latvia and during WWII. Valentina Freimane a survivor of the Holocaust, is the opera’s heroine. Today, Freimane resides and works in both Berlin and Riga. Her 2010 autobiography, “Adieu, Atlantis!” details her life during the war.
Woven into the opera, the composer Arturs Maskats weaves fantasy and historical facts, revisiting a crucial and dramatic period of Latvian history, a dark period of history that lasted from 1939 to 1945. The opera unfolds the tragic events that were to alter the fate of Latvia as a state for half a century.
Arturs Maskats has stated of the opera’s eponymous heroine: “The biography of Valentina Freimane is inseparable from that of Latvia and Europe and opens up a fresh perspective on a period of history shot through with colour and contradiction. The most dramatic moments in her life story coincide with momentous events such as the country’s loss of independence, an experience that left Latvians physically and emotionally drained. Yet Valentina is more than simply a political work; shimmering through the events depicted is a story of profound sentiment and great love.”
‘’The opera Valentina could become a sort of historical growing-up story for Latvia’’ said Gints Grube of the Riga 2014 Foundation, and curator of the Freedom Street programme chapter. ‘’Writing poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric,” wrote German philosopher Theodor Adorno, his statement arousing extensive discussion. After the annihilation of Europe’s Jews, a part of the world in Riga also disappeared for ever. It is more than seventy years since those tragic 20th century events, which Riga was also witness to. The fact that the opera Valentina is being staged at the Latvian National Opera is an event in itself as it addresses a time that has sustained an unarticulated and fear-filled syndrome; sometimes we don’t actually understand why there are subjects about which we cannot speak openly,’’ said Grube.
For many, the opera Valentina is music to help remember tragedies and heroes, keeping alive the memories of Holocaust in Latvia. ‘’The history of the 20th century is the mirror in which we, the Europeans, see terrible reflections of ourselves: violence and terror, mass killings of European Jews was reality only some 70 years ago! Today we must remember the tragedy of Jewish people, because it is the tragedy of the Europeans, our common tragedy.
To remember the Holocaust means also to remember heroes of resistance, those who were ready to overcome fear to say their decisive No! to the ideologies which legitimize the power of hate. The opera Valentina is the story of a multi-ethnic society in Latvia, where various people turned into heroes and saved the life of a Latvian girl Valentina. This is the story of ordinary Latvian citizens who remained human beings in inhuman regime,’’ said Dr. Werner Rechmann, coordinator of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation in the Baltic States.
But the opera shines with the message of the light of humanism, which is inextinguishable even in the most critical of circumstances and conditions.
Its message is clear, according to librettist of the opera Liana Langa, in that ‘’by our life, we are awarded the opportunity to be the agents of this light and to realize it in our acts and ideas’’. Langa continued, saying that ‘’this opera is dedicated to the victims and heroes of Nazi and Communist regimes who were saving people’s lives. We who are heirs of the light of Atlantida, we carry forth your sacrificial chalice. It is our bread, our songs, our light of reason. Our blood stream is rendered free by it forever!’’
The performance was conducted by the Lithuanian conductor Modestas Pitrenas, guest chief conductor of the Latvian National Opera in Riga. Maestro Pitrenas is also the artistic director and chief conductor of the Kaunas City Symphony Orchestra and the conductor of the Lithuanian National Symphony Orchestra as well as the Lithuanian National Opera and Ballet Theatre. Appearing in the role of Valentina, was Latvian soprano Inga Kalna.
A guest performance of Valentina will take place at the Deutsche Oper Berlin on May 19, 2015. More information and tickets can be found online at: http://deutscheoperberlin.de/de_DE/calendar/valentina.12150733