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Latvian National Opera and Ballet
High-class opera and ballet productions can also be seen in Latvia. Latvia even has its own White House – that is how Latvians call the building proudly rising up on Basteja Boulevard next to the picturesque city canal. For over 90 years now, it has been the home of the national opera and ballet companies, recognised and valued on the international cultural circuit, which have brought up many famous artists.
The stage of the Latvian National Opera has served as a springboard for now world-famous artists: the renowned lyrical coloratura soprano Inessa Galante, mezzo-soprano Elīna Garanča, the sopranos Inga Kalna, Kristīne Opalais, Maija Kovaļevska, the tenor Aleksandrs Antonenko, bass baritone Egils Silins, the premier ballet dancers Mikhail Baryshnikov, Māris Liepa and Aleksandrs Godunovs.
Yet the history of opera and ballet continues to be written by outstanding performers, including a superb chorus, musicians, coaches, directors and stage designers, whose achievements surprise everyone who becomes a spectator for even a single show. The LNO puts up nearly 200 productions per season and prepares on average six new productions. The basic repertoire of the Opera includes the majority of the golden classics, the productions of which often turn into surprising and bold long-term projects, such as the productions of Richard Wagner’s tetralogy.
Andrejs Žagars has been the director of the Latvian National Opera since 1996, he has also directed a number of productions. It is also thanks to Andrejs Žagars that LNO productions feature first-class contemporary artists from the world’s best known stages, such as the conductors Mariss Jansons, Mstislav Rostropovich, Tadeusz Wojciechowski, Julian Reynolds, and Modestas Pitrenas. The opera and ballet ensembles of the LNO have a busy tour schedule; they have performed in many EU countries, as well as in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Israel and Russia. The opera troupe of the LNO has participated in a number of European festivals: such as several appearances at Dalhalla (Sweden), Savonlinna (Finland) and Wiesbaden (Germany).
The origins of opera
The origins of opera in Latvia date back to the eighteenth century when the first musical productions took place in the Duchy of Kurzeme and the first travelling operas and troupes appeared in Riga. In 1782 the German City Theatre building (the present LNO) was opened, and productions of dramatic theatre as well as opera and ballet were held there. Latvian opera saw its birth in 1912 when the Latvian Opera company was founded under the leadership of the composer Pāvuls Jurjāns. The National Opera of the independent Latvia was opened on January 23, 1919, in the former building of the German City Theatre, with a production of Richard Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman.
The ballet company of the Latvian National Opera, in turn, is associated with the best traditions of classical Russian ballet. In the early nineteenth century, the citizens of Riga were enchanted by the art of ballet by the greatest European dancers of the time: the first dancer and ballet-master of the St. Petersburg Imperial Court Theatre; but before that, the first dancer of the Paris Opera, Louis Dupont; the prima ballerina of the Viennese theatre, Katti Lanner; dancer and ballet-master Marius Petipa. In the 1920s, the Riga ballet company was led by the ballerina Alexandra Fedorova, a member of the legendary Fokine family, who actively collaborated with her son, Lev Fokine. In the early 1930s, she passed the baton to Anatols Vilzaks, a dancer with the famous Diaghilev company… Following World War II, the leadership of the ballet was in the hands of the legendary Helēna Tangijeva-Birzniece, a pupil of the great Russian dance educator Agrippina Vaganova. Since 1993, the ballet troupe of the Latvian National Opera has been managed by Aivars Leimanis. Currently, the foundation of the repertoire of the LNO troupe consists of the gems of classical ballet: Giselle, The Swan Lake, The Nutcracker, Don Quixote, Le corsaire, as well as the best representatives of the so-called modern ballet: Romeo and Juliet, Coppélia, The Fountain of Bakhchisaray, The Bright Stream, the sophisticated Anna Karenina by Boris Eifman, and Mauricio Weinrot’s Tango Plus and Voyages.
The LNO building is an architectural landmark: purpose-built as a theatre in 1860-63 according to the design of L. Bohnstedt, a professor at the St. Petersburg Academy of Art, it was the first free-standing public building with four outer facades. Its exterior follows the classicist style; the lavish interior bears features of several styles: Renaissance, Baroque, Classicism and Empire. In the canal-side annex of the building (the boiler room), the first power station in Riga was established in 1887.