Since its completion almost a hundred years ago, the theater has changed hands and functions several times. It opened as one of the most important cultural institutions in Vilnius and began hosting productions on a regular basis. Famously, and according to the plaque fixed to the building a few years ago, a conference on Lithuanian independence led by Jonas Basanavičius, one of the most important figures in the history of Lithuanian nationalism (and for whom the street outside the theater is named), took place here in 1917. In 1925 the famous Polish director and experimental theater impresario Juliusz Osterwa brought his company, Reduta, to its new home in Vilnius. In 1948 it became the home of the Lithuanian National Opera and Ballet Theater, and in 1974, the year the LNOBT moved into its then brand new opera house, the Lithuanian National Drama Theater took up residence here (until it moved into its new theater in 1981). Finally, in 1986 it assumed its current title of the Russian Drama Theater.
Today it is used as both a theater and an opera house, and during my stay in Vilnius last year, I saw several brand new operas staged there, including Jonas Sakalauskas’ Donoras (The Donor), Vidmantas Bartulis’ Aušrinė (The Morning Star), and Algirdas Martinaitis’ Pasaulio Dangoraštis (The World Skyscraper).
The building itself was designed by architects Waclaw Michniewicz and Aleksander Parczewski and built from 1912-13. The design is inspired by a collection of styles, most notably both Baroque and Romanesque (one article mentioned the “Krakow-style” two-tiered, red tile roofs), and has undergone several renovations, including one in the last ten years. But before I reveal my utter lack of expertise in architecture, let me refer you to the pictures to the right and at the beginning of this post.
The main hall, in which Julius will be performed, is a large but intimate space that seats 537 people on an orchestra level and two tiers of balconies. The stage is big and there is even a pit for the orchestra!
On the night of the premiere of Julius, in the theater lobby will be a historical photography exhibit documenting the life of Lithuanians living in DP camps after WWII, courtesy of the Lithuanian World Community and the Lithuanian Institute of Emigration. This was a brilliant idea on the part of the organizers (more on them in a later post), as it is sure to place the audience even deeper into this often neglected period of history. And given that Act I ends with the family escaping the Russian zone of Germany into the British zone and Act II picks up about five years after the family settled in Camp Wehnen, the exhibit will provide effective continuity to the opera’s plot.
I’m anxious to see how the scenographer (set and costume designer) will use the space to recreate the era or present her own interpretation. In fact, she’ll be the topic of my next post. Stick around!