Latvian National Opera
|Latvian National Opera|
Latvijas Nacionālā opera (in Latvian)
|Town or city||Riga|
|Client||Riga's Deutsches Theater|
|Design and construction|
The Latvian National Opera and Ballet (LNOB) is a repertory theater at Aspazijas bulvāris 3 in Riga. Its repertoire includes performances of opera and ballet presented during the season (from mid-September to the end of May). During a typical season, LNOB presents almost 200 performances, including, on average, 6 new productions. The Great Hall has 946 seats, and the New Hall seats 250 to 300. LNOB employs 600: 28 opera soloists, 105 orchestra musicians, 62 choir singers and 70 ballet dancers. The building is located on the bank of the Riga canal, in the green belt of the city center. As of November 5, 2019, chairman of the LNOB board is Egils Siliņš.
The origins of the Latvian National Opera and Ballet stem back to 1782 when the Rigaer Stadttheater building, designed by Haberland and seating 500, a.k.a. Musse Building, was opened. Its director Otto Hermann von Vietinghoff-Scheel supported a symphony orchestra of 24 musicians with his own money. Conrad Feige, who staged productions not only in Riga but also in St Petersburg, Reval, and Dorpat, was invited to fill the post of concert master and conductor. When, in 1788, von Vietinghoff moved to St Petersburg, an actor by the name of Meierer took over the position. In 1815, the Musse Society (die Gesellschaft der Musse) bought the building from the von Vietinghoff family. Richard Wagner was the Kappelmeister of the theater from 1837 to 1839.
In 1860—1863, a new Riga Stadttheater (City Theater) building was constructed with seats for an audience of close to 2,000. It was opened with productions of Friedrich Schiller’s Wallenstein’s Camp and Ludwig van Beethoven’s Fidelio. On June 14, 1882, the theater burnt down, with only the outer walls remaining. The building was renovated in 1882—1887 according to a design by the city’s chief architect Reinhold Schmeling. During the First World War the theater was closed to the German company and, until 1915, the Riga Imperial Music School used the building for its concerts. During the 1916-1917 season, Angarov and Rudin’s Russian drama company performed there, with the Deutsches Stadttheater (German City Theater) returning to the building on September 29. Its last performance there took place on January 1, 1919; the next afternoon, the building’s annex burnt down , to be fully restored only in 1922.
On December 27, 1912, (Old Style)/ January 9, 1913 (New Style), the Latvian Opera (Latviešu opera), headed by Pāvuls Jurjāns (1866—1948), began performing in the auditorium of Latvian Society House with a production of Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin. Some of the company spent the years of the First World War in Riga, but some evacuated to Russia. Under Jurjāns, the Latvian Opera resumed its activities in Riga in January 1918 with a production of Giuseppe Verdi’s La Traviata  and several operettas: Johann Strauss Jr’s Die Fledermaus, Franz Lehár’s The Merry Widow, Rudolf Dellinger’s Don Cesar and Johann Strauss Jr’s Der Zigeunerbaron. In August 1918, Hauptmann Paul Hopf, Head of the City of Riga under German occupation, received the following letter of gratitude: "Under [his] aegis, the Latvian theater received the second theater building with the same rights as pertain to the German theater in the first building. [..] Not only drama performances took place, there were also some rehearsals of the Latvian Opera". The Latvian Opera gave its performances in the first half of 1918 in the same premises, which now house the National Theater, where another opera company, with a slightly different name, Latvju opera (also translated as Latvian Opera in English) began its activities in autumn of that year.
On the origins of Latvju Opera: "The initiative originated in Dorpat, in the society organized by lawyer Andrejs Frīdenbergs (it was named Apgāda). Organizational work continued in St Petersburg, to where many Latvian artists had evacuated during the First World War." Jāzeps Vītols became a seminal figure in the history of the development of Latvian opera and the first director of Latvju Opera, holding the post until the end of December 1918. In his memoir, Vītols gives a detailed description of the formation of Latvju Opera in the summer of 1918. After the Brest-Litovsk Peace Treaty was signed in 1918, many evacuees could return to Riga. On September 15, 1918, the opening concert took place and, on October 15, 1918, Richard Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman was performed, with Teodors Reiters conducting. On November 19, The Flying Dutchman was performed without changing the decorations from the previous night, when the Declaration of Sovereignty of the Republic of Latvia was adopted under solemn circumstances.
After the Bolsheviks led by Pēteris Stučka took power in early 1919, establishing Soviet rule in Latvia, Andrejs Upīts, Head of the Education Commissariat’s Art Department, gave an order for Latvju Opera to move to the former Stadttheater, and the company did so on January 23, 1919. On this day, a performance of the October 15, 1918 production of The Flying Dutchman took place in the new location. An important role in the move was played by Teodors Reiters, chief conductor of Latvju Opera since September 1918; in January 1919, he became the director of the Opera. On February 9, 1919, the Bolshevik government issued a decree whereby the Opera was nationalized to become the Opera of Soviet Latvia and to be financed from the state budget.
After the Stučka government was overthrown, the company returned to its original name Latvju Opera and was attached to the Southern Latvia brigade. After the Strazdumuiža ceasefire was signed on August 15, both city theaters were requisitioned . On September 23, 1919, the Regulation “On the National Opera” was adopted by the Cabinet of Ministers of the Republic of Latvia. Just as under the Bolsheviks, the company was lawfully guaranteed a building, status of the national opera, and state financing. On December 2, a performance of Richard Wagner’s Tannhäuser took place; it had premiered in Latvian already on May 10, 1919, under the direction of Dmitry Arbenin and conducted by Teodors Reiters, when it was the Opera of Soviet Latvia. Until the end of the 1930s, December 2 was celebrated as the anniversary of the Latvian National Opera (LNO), but under the Soviet occupation, the date was January 23. The LNO celebrated its 90th anniversary with a concert on December 22, 2009, and its centenary with two gala concerts on November 16 and 17, 2018.
In the years 1920-1940, the Latvian National Opera played a central role in Riga’s musical life. Every year, 8 new productions premiered and, starting with a production of a ballet by Peter Ludwig Hertel, ballets were also staged. In 20 years, more than 300 performances took place, with the average annual audience of 220,000.
In 1940, when the Soviet Union occupied Latvia, the name of the theater was changed to the “Opera and Ballet Theater of the Latvian SSR”. Under the Nazi German occupation (1941-1944), it became the Riga Opera Theater, only to revert to the name given in 1940 when Soviet troops re-occupied Latvia in 1945. On April 24, 1989, the Opera celebrated its 70th anniversary and changed its name back to the one from the interwar period.
After the season finale with Giuseppe Verdi’s Un Ballo in Maschera in 1990, reconstruction work was started on the building, which reopened in 1995. The Opera company returned to its home stage with a production of the opera Uguns un nakts by Jānis Mediņš. In 2001, construction work on a complex of annexes was completed, providing audiences with the New Hall that can seat 300.
The building of the First Riga (German) Theater was constructed in 1860—1863 according to a design by architect Ludwig Bohnstedt (1822—1885) in a place where the so-called Pancake Bastion, one of the elements of Riga’s fortification system, was previously located. It is a building of Hellenized Classicism whose ornate northeastern façade is decorated by a portico of Ionic columns and a group of allegoric figures (Apollo, symbols for tragedy and comedy, the genius of drama, etc.).
Directors and conductors
Directors: Teodors Reiters [1884-1956], director from 1919 until 1926; Jānis Zālītis [1884-1943], director from 1919 until 1922; Alfrēds Kalniņš [1879-1951], delegate of Ministry of Education from 1919 until 1921, when Jānis Brigaders [1856-1936] takes his place until 1922; Directors (from 1922) under the direction of Chief director Teodors Reiters: Jānis Mediņš [1890-1966], Alberts Kviesis [1881-1944], Pauls Šuberts [1884-1945], Alfrēds Kalniņš [1879-1951]; Chief director from 1926 until 1927 - Ansis Gulbis [1873-1936]; directors Pēteris Pauls Jozuus [1873-1937], Jānis Zālītis [1884-1943]; Pēteris Pauls Jozuus [1873-1937] – 1927-1929; Alberts Prande [1893-1957], executive director from 1929 until 1931; Teodors Reiters [1884-1956] – 1931-1934; Nikolajs Vanadziņš [1892-1978], 1934-1936; Jēkabs Poruks [1895-1963], 1936-1940; Aleksandrs Viļumanis [1910-1980], 1940-1941; Pēteris Smilga [1901-1968], 1941-1941; Jēkabs Poruks [1895-1963], 1941-1944; Rūdolfs Bērziņš [1881-1949], 1944-1945; Jevgeņijs Meija [1898-1968], 1945-1952; Aleksandrs Āboliņš [1893-1978], 1952-1956; Jevgeņijs Meija [1898-1968], 1956-1958; Vladimirs Kaupužs [dz. 1925], 1958-1962; Isaaks Arolovičs [1915-?], executive director from 1962 until 1962; Nikolajs Kārkliņš [1921-2013], 1962-1963; Valdis Rūja, director from 1963 until 1966; Linards Eihmanis [1928-1996], 1966-1973; Jevgeņijs Vanags [1922-1987], 1974-1977; Balfurs Ferbers [1925-2015], executive director from 1976-1978; Valdis Blūms [1936-2019], 1978-1988; Arvīds Bomiks [dz.1940], 1988-1990; Oļģerts Dunkers [1932-1997], director from May 21, 1990 until June 20, 1990; Juris Savickis [dz. 1953], 1990-1994; Gatis Strads [dz.1955], executive director from 1994 until 1995; Ivars Bērziņš [dz. 1954], intendant from 1995 until 1996; Mārtiņš Bauze-Krastiņš [dz.1958], executive director from February 9, 1996 until August 6, 1996; Andrejs Žagars [1958-2019], 1996 -2013; Zigmars Liepiņš [dz.1952] – Chairman of the Board from 2013 until 2019, Daina Markova – Member of the Board from 2013 until 2019, Inese Eglīte – Member of the Board from 2013; Egils Siliņš- Chairman of the Board from 2019, Members of the Board – Inese Eglīte and Sandis Voldiņš (from September 2019).
Conductors: Teodors Reiters – 1918 – 1944; chief conductor from 1918 until 1925; Bernhards Valle - seasons 1919./1920, 1922/1923; Dāvids Jakobsons – 1920-1922; Jānis Mediņš – 1920-1928; Emil Cooper - chief conductor from 1925 until 1928; Georg Schnéevoigt - chief conductor from 1929 until 1931; Otto Carl – 1929-1933; Ignatz Waghalter – 1931-1933; Lovro von Matačić - 1932; Jānis Kalniņš – 1933-1944; Napoleone Annovazzi – season 1934/1935; Salvatore Indovino – season 1935/1936; Pēteris Barisons – season 1936/1937; Michel Steimann – season 1936/1937; Arvīds Norītis – 1937-1944; Leo Blech – 1938-1941; Leonīds Vīgners – 1939-1949; chief conductor from 1945 until 1949; Arvīds Jansons – 1944-1952; Sergejs Orlanskis – season 1945/1946; Mihails Žukovs – 1946-1951, chief conductor from 1949 until 1951; Rihards Glāzups – 1949-1992, chief conductor from 1967 until 1975 and season 1990/1991; Edgars Tons – 1949-1967, chief conductor from 1952 until 1967; Leonīds Hudoļejs – 1951-1954; Izrails Čudnovskis – 1953-1957; Jānis Hunhens – 1954-1986; Jāzeps Lindbergs – 1962-1983; Aleksandrs Viļumanis – 1970-1996, chief conductor from 1975 until 1985, from 1994 until 1996; Valentīns Bogoļubovs – 1976-1982; Leons Amoliņš – 1981-1992, chief conductor from 1986 until 1990; Viesturs Gailis – 1984-1993, chief conductor from 1991 until 1993; Dzintars Josts – 1986-1994; Jānis Zirnis – 1989-2004; Normunds Dreģis – 1996-2013; Guntars Bernāts – 1996- 2000; Gintaras Rinkevičius – musical director from 1996 until 2000, chief conductor from 2000 until 2003, chief guest conductor from 2007 until 2009; Andris Nelsons - chief conductor from 2003 until 2007; Modestas Pitrėnas - chief conductor from 2012 until 2013; Andris Veismanis - from 1997; Normunds Vaicis - from 1989; Farhads Stade - from 1997; Jānis Liepiņš - from 2014; Aigars Meri - from 2006; Kaspars Ādamsons - from 2014; Mārtiņš Ozoliņš - from 2003, chief conductor from 2013.