Profane and sacred in proximity
The Latvian National Opera and Ballet (LNOB) premiered on the 23 May its newest production, Richard Wagner’s masterpiece Tannhauser.
Finnish opera stage director, Vilppu Kiljunen noted that his staging approach for the LNOB’S production ‘‘was built around a central question: the conditions that make love and loving possible in a cultural context, where the idea and role of a woman is violently divided into that of a saint or a whore’’.
Wagner’s three act, four hour opera centred on the struggle between the sacred and profane love, and redemption through love. It is a work which sees history, myth and invention come together.
The opera’s Bacchanal remains a defining focus of Tannhauser, and the LNOB had The Baltic Times was informed engaged local striptease artists for the simulated onstage orgiastic reveries, and to convey the psychosexual symbolism of the myth of Venus and her subterranean realm of Venusberg (Venus Mountain) which is featured in the opera.
Wagner has a special place in the heart of Riga, where continuing enthusiasm and support for one of world’s greatest composers of the 19th century abounds in honouring him, through calls to brand Riga internationally as "Wagner's city".
“I would propose to launch an overwhelming international marketing campaign to advertise Riga as the city of Richard Wagner,” Sergejs Nikiforovs from the Nams Architectural Studio in Riga said.
Wagner’s stay in Riga though short, he was Chief Conductor of the Riga City Theatre from 1837-1839, was however one that was extremely creative and artistically fruitful for the composer.
The first Wagner opera performed in Riga was The Flying Dutchman in 1843, shortly after its premiere in Dresden in 1843.
"Riga is described to me as the nicest place in the world, especially when it comes to earning money..." wrote Wagner to his wife, prior to his departure from Berlin to Riga.
After Tannhauser’s first performance, on 19 October 1845, at the Koniglich Sachsisches Hoftheater, in Dresden, Riga saw Tannhauser performed at the Riga City Theatre on the 18 Jan. 1853, having become after Wroclaw in 1852, the third European city to have staged the opera’s performance.
The LNOB had engaged three outstanding Finnish artists, Vilppu Kiljunen, the productions Set and Costumer Designer, Kimmo Viskari , and Timo Rihonen (in the role of Hermanis) in conjunction with Finland’s 2017 centenary celebrations of its independence, the Finnish Ambassador to Latvia, His Excellency Olli Kantanen, told The Baltic Times.
‘‘Also on a historic note, I would like to point out that Finland saw the premiere of Tannhauser on 5 August 1857, with a performance that was given in Helsinki by the Riga City Theatre,’’ said Ambassador Kantanen.
Speaking about the production, Vilppu Kiljunen noted: ‘‘I wanted to bring feelings back, emotions back to the opera. I wanted to bring big gestures to the opera, but still have the content. That content is something that is connected to current times, and it actually is the idea of the modern human being, the individual, that still lives here everywhere with the need for freedom. I think that the audience is going to have a lot of things to think about-love, sexuality, freedom and mercy. That’s one of the biggest themes in Tannhauser also. And from that mediations they can think about their own life also.’’
‘‘Tannhauser draws his artistic inspiration from experiencing polar opposites: the pleasure he experiences in an underground grotto, and the asceticism he experiences on his pilgrimage to Rome. He also loves women who are polar opposites to one another, and searches for a way to combine these two opposites to form a unified whole: Tannhauser wants the sensual Venus to have Elisabeth’s chastity, whereas he wants the chaste Elisabeth to have Venus’s sensuousness,’’ Kiljunen said.
Though it is Tannhauser’s "orgiastic dances’’ evolving around the grouping of sumptuous youthful naked lust-yearning women, which stand for the animal element in love in Tannhauser, which may linger on the mind. Tannhauser juxtaposes the sacred and the profane brought into disturbing proximity, where flesh and spirit share the same thematic language, with reflection on moral and sexual concerns still largely a contemporary theme.
But without doubt Wagner’s message is clear of ‘‘the power of the music of good,’’ suggesting that ‘‘from a mysterious eternal bias of human nature, man finally must prefer good. He has a soul that will be drawn on and upward.”
But the central theme for Kiljunen remains that of longing, or as he states ‘‘ilgus’’ in Latvian.
‘‘If ‘‘ilgus’’ means the kind of longing that has a need, an extreme need that you were born with, and you can’t live without that ‘‘ilgus’’, then that idea of ‘‘ilgus’’ is for me the main important element in Tannhauser,’’ Kiljunen said.
‘’Tannhauser has it, because he is an exceptional character, an exceptional person.’’
‘‘The main point is that ‘‘ilgus’’ exists and it’s a thing you have to live with, and there is no option. You have to fight for it, because it brings everything in your life. And you were born with that and you will live with that, and you will die with that.’’
Further upcoming performances of Tannhauser at the LNOB will be staged on 10 June (Saturday) 18:00, 15 June (Thursday) 18:00, and 4 October (Wednesday) 18:00.
Information on how to purchase tickets and performance details can be found on the website of the Latvian National Opera and Ballet: www.opera.lv.
Box office: Monday-saturday 10:00-19:00, Sunday 11:00-19:00. Telephone: +371 67073777. E-mail: boxof[email protected]
“Finnish opera stage director, Vilppu Kiljunen noted that his staging approach for the LNOB’S production ‘‘was built around a central question: the conditions that make love and loving possible in a cultural context, where the idea and role of a woman is violently divided into that of a saint or a whore’”
An absolutely fantastic solid performance from the LNO Chorus, Riga Chamber Choir Ave Sol, Riga Cathedral Choir School.
Calls for an overwhelming international marketing campaign to advertise Riga as a city of Richard Wagner