I know, I know. It’s been about a week since I left you hanging at the most exciting time.
How did it go? Maybe you’re asking the wrong person. My answer is based on so much more than that of any other member of the audience or cast. I can’t even begin to describe what I felt, but besides the obvious personal significance the premiere held for my family and me, I would say it was more successful than I had ever hoped. So successful, in fact, that it took me until now to get any photos to prove it. All production photos were taken by Jurgis Sakalauskas.
After over a month of daily rehearsals and two full dress rehearsals the day before and of the performance, everyone was more than ready. Minutes before the performance, everyone on the Julius team held hands and paused to reflect on all the hard work leading to this moment. A lot of people were there. All of Julius' children were there. Even the former president of Lithuania, Valdas Adamkus (himself once a DP), complete with his wife and two bodyguards, was there (we had to warn his people of the two gunshots in Act II). After one last shout of camaraderie, everyone took their places and the opera began.
The music opened quietly and slowly as all the DPs, walking past the giant crossroads signpost which anchored the staging throughout the entire opera, gradually came out on stage. After the young Julius, or Juliukas (sung by Deividas Kairys), gave a few shepherd calls, the chorus entered with its train-influenced a cappella section (which all of you have probably heard already) and the story was on its way.
Act I highlighted Julius and his family’s experience in a foreign worker’s camp in Brandenburg just before the end of WWII. There was a bombing. All the men were drinking homemade liquor. The children were playing with a grenade they found. German soldiers marched through the camp. A doctor tried to amputate Julius’ leg.
These scenes (and all scenes in the opera) were typical of the time, and, with only a few exceptions, were based on real-life events from my grandfather’s life as a DP. Between scenes, Juliukas sporadically reappeared to comment on the plot and provide insight into the psychology of the DPs. Two of the DPs, played by a couple of extremely talented dancers (Ieva Svetickaitė and Daniil Kolmin), provided commentary of their own through Marija's choreography.
Having learned that once again they were under Soviet control in post-war East Germany, the DPs made their way to the border between Soviet and British occupation zones to wait for their chance to escape. This chance came at the end of Act I, when Julius bribed three Soviet soldiers (only two soldiers in the real-life version of the story) with bottles of his homemade liquor, after which the soldiers got so drunk that the rest of the DPs were able to sneak past.
Act II, set in Camp Wehnen in Oldenburg, was a little different. Adelina opened the act with an aria describing the torment of stagnation and the lack of free will. Even when Julius showed up with a loaf of black rye bread, the smell of which had him singing an aria filled with nostalgia for home and the hope to someday return, Adelina still knew better the reality of the family’s situation.
During a lively evening of dancing and as this tension between running further and returning home boiled over among all DPs, a young man in the camp shot his girlfriend and then himself. Crippled by their desperation and the shock of such a tragedy, the DPs found a scapegoat quickly: the Jušinskas family. Julius and Adelina were subsequently interrogated by a couple of absurdly malicious agents- the last straw for Adelina.
After a bitter fight between the two main characters in which Adelina insisted they leave the camp, Julius was finally convinced to acquiesce to her demands upon the arrival of a letter sponsorship from “Uncle Joe.” As Julius sang his final aria about the feeling of defeat and pain of letting go, the DPs exited through what must have been a 30- or 40-foot door at the back of the stage. Julius and his family soon followed, and the music faded out.
The audience gave a standing ovation, flowers were heaped on Marija, Ričardas, Daiva, Tomas, Onutė, Deividas, Stasė (the choirmaster), me, and the other performers, and everyone celebrated the success till the early morning hours.
Sure, there were minor things that didn't exactly go according to plan, but only I and the performers knew about them (except for the cell phone that went off at one of the quietest moments of the opera.... pretty sure everyone knew about that). Most everything else was too good to be true. The soloists let go completely, the dancers danced beautifully, the chorus was absolutely solid (as usual!), and the orchestra played with a great deal of both energy and expressiveness. For what more could anyone have asked?
So, what’s next? Now that’s an easy question. I didn’t really notice, but someone told me the 537-seat theater was almost full. Still, that amount is hardly a fraction of the number of people and families impacted by this surprisingly little known period of history. People from around the world (at least the parts of the world within relatively easy financial reach of Vilnius) came to see the premiere, but so many just couldn’t.
What’s next is a second performance. And a third. And several more after that. I’ve commented before on the intimacy of the music community in Lithuania, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that most, if not all, the performers in Julius were friends even before rehearsals began. But no matter what their relationship was before, surely it was taken to an entirely new level after a solid month of daily rehearsals followed by a such a well-received premiere. Not only have the performers completely internalized the music, but now they are all part of the Julius team- a team eager to play together again and again and confront whatever new challenges might present themselves along the way.
That said, performances of this caliber need support. For the premiere, there was a good deal of support from both private donors as well as public entities, including the U.S. Embassy in Vilnius, but more help is always needed. The premiere generated a lot of talk in Lithuania (there were TV segments, a radio interview, and several articles and ads in various newspapers), so there is no question that a large and interested audience exists for Julius. What my job will be in the coming months is to not only help secure new performances in both Lithuania and abroad (hopefully in the U.S. sometime in the future), but also make them actually possible through fund raising.
It’s been a long process since my first post back in the summer of 2008 and I really appreciate you sticking around thus far. Please stop by often for more production photos from the premiere as well as any other news that comes along. Talk to you soon!