Opera retells film scholar’s Holocaust survival

Take note – story published 8 years ago

The Latvian National Opera (LNO) premiered the full-length Latvian-language opera “Valentīna”, by composer Arturs Maskats and libretto co-author Liāna Langa this weekend, based on motifs taken from the life-story of esteemed cinema arts scholar and theatre critic Valentīna Freimane.

Valentīna Freimane lost both her parents and husband in the Holocaust as a young woman, yet retained a “human beauty and warmth – after all she lived through, managed to stay a harmonious, loving woman blessed with high spiritual ideals, for a full, rich life,” the composer told LSM.

Rather than retelling documentary details of her biography, Maskats’ opera is “dedicated to the generation that met the war when they were young adults, whose best years were spent under the world war sign.” The libretto speaks to the fate of the Latvian nation, with all of its ethnic and language groups experiencing a historical cataclysm, but through the prism of Valentīna’s personality.

Stage director Viesturs Kairišs, making his debut in the opera better known as a film director, said he was inspired by her enthusiasm recalling the days of her bohemian youth in Riga after growing up in some of Europe’s other great cities. Of Maskats’ music, Kairišs said “it purifies, rather than mortifies as love is the power that lifts one over the tragic events.”

Singer Inga Kalna, performing in the title role cited the “ironic” tone in her memoirs, which the composer and poet had exclusive access to while writing “Valentīna.”

“Even mentioning this inhuman, tragic theme, there’s an irony and a woman’s clever smirk shining through it all,” she said.

The 92-year protagonist herself now lives in Berlin, one of the cities where she spent part of her childhood with her parents.

The opening nights Friday December 5 and Sunday December 7 will be followed by performances scheduled December 18, January 28, February 28 and April 23 at the LNO.

The work is also on listed to be a guest performance at the Berlin German Opera on May 19 as part of Latvia’s EU Council presidency diplomatic and cultural program.  

“Valentīna” was awarded first prize in a 2009 contest seeking original ideas for a Latvian opera and became a centerpiece among many other events in Riga’s European Cultural Capital stint this year.

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