Friday, January 29, 2010

The Soloists

I have some exciting news this week! The two principal soloists for Julius have been confirmed.

First is Adelina. The opera is named after my grandfather, but it could just as well have been named after my grandmother. Adelina may have been a soft-spoken person, but she was often the driving force behind many of the family’s biggest decisions, including the final decision to emigrate to the U.S. Similarly, in the opera she may not sing as often as Julius, but her role is crucial to the plot.

Singing the role of Adelina will be the rising young Lithuanian star soprano, Ona Kolobovaitė, who recently was catapulted to headlines across the country by winning “Triumfo arka,” the Lithuanian counterpart to American Idol or Britain’s Got Talent and focused almost exclusively on opera arias and numbers from musicals. A quick YouTube search will yield several results, including videos from the competition.

Just like the conductor, Kolobovaitė is only 25 years old, yet she will be adding this recent award to an already impressive list of significant and diverse accomplishments, including performances with the Lithuanian National Opera and Ballet Theater (Cherubino in Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro and Annina in Verdi’s La Traviata), roles in plays and musicals such as Terrence McNally’s Master Class (based on the life of Maria Callas) and Vilnius composer Gediminas Gelgotas’ Musicality of Life, and, on five separate occasions, 1st prize in the “Dainų dainelė” contest, one of the longest running vocal competitions in Lithuania. She even stars in the Lithuanian soap opera Nekviesta meilė (Uninvited Love).

As one would correctly assume, however, the most active and important character in the opera is Julius, and boasting an equally impressive list of accolades is Tomas Pavilionis, the tenor who will sing the role. This 26 year-old from Kaunas made his debut at the Chicago Lithuanian Opera in 2005 and has since gone on to perform in several operas, concerts, and other projects in Lithuania.

Pavilionis’ roles have included Gherardo in Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi, Lensky in Tchaikovsky’s Yevgeny Onegin, Lyonel in Flotow’s Martha, as well as such important roles as Alfredo in Verdi’s La Traviata and Buratinas in Jurgis Gaižauskas’ Buratinas. Currently (and in addition to playing the role of Julius, of course) he is preparing to sing the roles of Almaviva in Rossini’s The Barber of Seville and Rinuccio in Gianni Schicchi. His performance in Julius will be his second appearance at an NOA Festival.

But Pavilionis’ musical activity is not limited to opera. He has performed with the St. Christopher Chamber Orchestra, was a prizewinner in the 2009 Stasys Baras Vocal Competition, and routinely performs with Jonas Sakalauskas and Eugenijus Chrebtovas in the pop vocal group El Fuego (similar to the multinational group Il Divo).

With soloists as accomplished as Pavilionis and Kolobovaitė and the artistry and talent they will bring to the roles of Julius and Adelina, I know Julius has just made a huge leap towards a successful premiere performance in March.

Monday, January 4, 2010

About the Conductor

Many people have asked if I will be conducting the opera, and this is a good question, as many composers are also active conductors. The answer is no, but I am happy to elaborate that answer by telling you a little about who will be conducting. I never actually met him during my time in Vilnius, but I certainly remember his performances.

Ričardas Šumila is a young Lithuanian conductor originally from Kaunas, the interwar capital and the second largest city in Lithuania, and began studying music when he was five years old. By the time he was in the 8th grade, after gaining a solid foundation at the piano and in music theory and history, he was ready to begin conducting as well as composing. After studying conducting with Audronė Marcinkevičiutė and composition with Algirdas Brilius and Zita Bružaitė, in 2003 he graduated from the Juozas Naujalis High School for Music and entered the Lithuanian Academy of Music and Theater (LMTA) in Vilnius.

In Vilnius, he studied choral conducting with Povilas Gylys and orchestral conducting with the renowned Gintaras Rinkevičius, and it wasn't long before he won the LMTA's prestigious Senate Scholarship in recognition of his outstanding work and his commitment to concert performances.

In the spring of 2007, Šumila finished his undergraduate studies by winning 1st place in the Jaronimas Kačinskas Young Conductors' Competition and in the summer of that same year entered the master's program at the LMTA, continuing his studies with Rinkevičius.

The last couple of years have been especially busy for Šumila. Beginning at the end of 2008 with his work leading the rehearsals of the Pucinni opera Gianni Schicchi, he went on to conduct several opera and musical theater performances throughout 2009, from such well known works as Carmen and Sweeney Todd, to new works such as Rita Mačiliūnaitė's opera, Nebūti ar Nebūti, which he premiered at last year's NOA Festival.

He has been equally active in chamber and orchestral concerts around Vilnius. In the spring of 2009, he conducted both the LMTA Symphony Orchestra as well as the Lithuanian National Philharmonic, including the world premiere of Rūta Vitkauskaitė's Stabai. Also in 2009, he led a unique chamber ensemble for a project titled "Neįprastos istorijos" (Unusual Stories) that consisted of several performances of chamber music and which resulted in a permanent relationship with the ensemble under the new name "InSpe" (pictured below with Šumila).

At only 25 years old, Šumila already has a promising career as a conductor and I am incredibly excited that he so enthusiastically agreed to conduct the premiere of Julius.