I overdosed on culture last night: two Bach Passions in one night.
I went to the first, the Passion according to St John, not expecting anything different for the usual serious stuff. Edward Lucas* may complain that Vilnius is boring these days, but he obviously doesn't go to the opera. I found myself sitting down with a curtain depicting a vulture in a tree looking out over a plain. That should have told me something was up.
The curtain rose and it was clear we were getting a lot more than the usual soloists and choir facing the audience. I should have realised this from the programme but somehow it didn't sink in, though I did wonder a bit where the part "solo dancer" came from.
It started with the Evangelist in black and the solo dancer in white walking very slowly across the stage and when they met they turned and continued walking backwards slowly away from each other. This was quite a feat for the dancer as she was pulling a train (attached to her dress) which in length was half the width of the stage. Eventually the soloists appeared in minimalist costumes and sang their stuff. At the same time, the stage was mainly lit from the back curtain, where what looked like 3 railway sleepers at curious angles moved diagonally across the backdrop, in a very distracting way.
Everyone was very slow in their movements which were designed to look either like shadow puppets moving against the light background or Egyptian sideview stereotypes. The dancer spent rather a lot of time walking very slowly back and forward at the back in profile. Everybody except Jesus spent a lot of making rather threatening gestures in profile.
The chorus were dressed in cream tents and caps which made them all flat-chested and fairly indistinguishable except by height and width. They moved as a group like Daleks. I did find it rather disturbing that the chorus was one minute praising God and sounding God-fearing and the next minute baying for blood, but that's the way with choruses.
The soldiers were rather impressive, all in black with spears and huge black helmets. As they marched in profile they looked very much like Balinese shadow puppets.
Finally at the moment when Christ died on the cross, a silver blue fluorescent light appeared (diagonally opposed to the railway sleepers) and pointed the way to heaven. Unfortunately the wires hanging the light were rather more visible than those hanging the railway sleepers, so some of the effect was spoiled.
I'm sure you can tell that I was rather distracted from the music. There were subtitles in Lithuanian, but my 3 years of lessons never needed me to read the bible, so my Christian vocabulary was a bit lacking. However several years of church-going in my youth did mean I was familiar with the plot, though I doubt if my kids are. I realised also that the music was more unfamiliar than I expected.
So a rather strange performance altogether, from the direction of Robert Wilson (USA), with a mostly German cast, who came only for the first performance and we got mainly substitutes on the second night.
After that I got home and found that there was still time to watch Passion according to St Matthew on Mezzo TV, which was the classical performance standing on a stage with no acting. That was much more familiar and I enjoyed it more.
It's been rather a cultural two weeks. Sloph and I went to more opera to see how they managed Anna Karenina falling under a train, to a Kazakh film in the Vilnius Film Festival, and to hear Edward Lucas.
*Edward Lucas (Eastern European correspondent of the Economist) was in town to address the British Chamber of Commerce on the occasion of the 20 year anniversary of Lithuania's independence. His talk included telling the Lithuanians they had now become boring, but this was not a secret weapon they could use against the Russians, so true to his New Cold War book, he told them to hurry up and buy more tanks. The Cabinet of Ministers turned out in force to hear this, and the Defence Minister must have been very pleased, though quite what they will pay for them with, is not clear. Also just at the moment there are a few more priorities than defence.
In a ceremony at Vilnius Airport Lucas handed over the first Lithuanian visa numbered 0001, to be preserved for posterity. It seems that Lithuanians didn't expect many other visitors if only 4 digits were required.