Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Excerpt Performance in Vilnius!

No matter what I might tell you in writing about the music, there is nothing like actually hearing it. On June 18, if any of you happen to be in Vilnius, the award-winning Lithuanian chamber choir Jauna Muzika will sing a short choral excerpt from the opera as part of their annual "Vox Juventutis" competition for young composers. Details of the performance can be found here.

Regardless of the outcome of the competition, more important is, first, the quality of performance the music will get, and second, that the performance will be recorded. If you didn't explore the link above thoroughly, the choir has a few audio excerpts from some of its album releases here. And for those of you with a subscription to the Naxos site, you can listen to their recording of Osvaldas Balakauskas' (my teacher) Requiem here.

Ultimately, what this means is that all of you out there who might be following this blog will finally get to hear some music!

The excerpt, titled Dipukų Rauda (DPs' Lament) as a standalone concert piece, is taken from the first scene of Act I, just after the short prologue that opens the entire opera. In a real opera staging, the chorus is made up of DPs (Displaced Persons) of different Eastern European origin, crammed together into a train car. Despite the diverse makeup of the group, they all are fleeing the same danger, are uncertain about their future, and share the same feelings of fear and anxiety (please forgive the following rudimentary and completely unpoetic translation from the original Lithuanian text):

Baimė kausto mintis - Fear grips the mind
Ryžtas trypia širdis. - Determination tramples the heart.
Sunkias beržo sula - The birch sap is strained
Ne namų o speigų - No home but hard frost
Tolimųjų kraštų - The distant land
Mūsų siaubo akių - Our eyes of horror
Pamestų tarp miškų - Lost among forests
Sutryptų be jausmų. - Trampled without feeling.
Ką vaikai pamatys - What will the children see
Jei nebėgsi tolyn, - If you don't flee further,
Kur paslėpsi akis - Where will you hide your eyes
Nuo likimo nagų? - From fate's clutches?
Gal kitur bus geriau - Maybe elsewhere will be better
Gal kiti bus geri. - Maybe others will be kind.
Baimė kausto mintis - Fear grips the mind
Ryžtas trypia širdis. - Determination tramples the heart.

Yes, my translation is a direct and clumsy one, but one can imagine some florid yet tasteful English poetry in its place. The text is pretty straightforward, but I should explain a couple of lines that may not be entirely clear in meaning.

Determination tramples the heart: The word "ryžtas" in the Lithuanian-English dictionary is most closely translated as "resolution," "determination," or "strong purpose." But if I were to use a whole phrase to more accurately translate the word, then it would be "the choice one makes of his own free will," which gives a much better picture of the line's reference. In other words, as one makes the agonizing decision to leave his home, perhaps for good, he must overcome the inevitable and instinctual feelings of anxiety and homesickness that will accompany such a move, and his determination to follow through with this decision contradicts everything his heart tells him.

The distant land: I know my translation sounds like a History Channel special about Columbus' voyage to America, but this line actually refers to Siberia, infamous over the past three or four centuries for its Russian (and more recently in history, Soviet) labor camps to which millions of people, including Russians, were exiled. Towards the end of the first Soviet occupation of Lithuania (1940-41), thousands of Lithuanians began to be deported to Siberia, where they joined the many groups and nationalities who had already suffered the same fate.

The text of the excerpt may be brief, but it effectively sets the underlying tone of the opera. It is this tension between listening to one's heart and making painful but perhaps life-saving choices that drives the plot (I say "plot," but I'm also talking about the lives of millions of real people) forward.

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