In January 2022, one of the most brilliant Latvian musical compositions will return to the stage of the National Opera: Jānis Kalniņš’s musical tragedy Hamlet, a story about strength and fragility, structured as ten scenes with interludes. The new production is the work of its musical director and conductor Mārtiņš Ozoliņš, stage director Kristina Wuss, scenographer Andris Eglītis, and costume designer Kristīne Pasternaka. The patron of the production is the Latvian National Opera Guild in the United States.
“Hamlet was completed in late 1935, early1936, with the composer working both in Latvia and Austria. It coincided with the time when the Latvian team claimed victory in the First European Basketball Championship, the Freedom Monument was erected with money donated by the Latvian people, and Latvian crafts were exhibited at the Trocadero in Paris. Soon, VEF began producing its Veflux Geographic Super 707 radio, featuring a picture of the world map. Life was not out of joint quite to the extent as it was in medieval Denmark. Suddenly, a time tunnel emerges, joining moments from different centuries: 16th c. (play) – 1935 (opera) – 21st c.(paintings). The focus of these ten scenes, with interludes of different lengths, is conscience as it balances on the centrifuge of the revolving circle in the LNOB stage floor. While Shakespeare personifies this theme in at least 20 different characters, Kalniņš makes do with fewer. I feel like using white for the story, a situation of melting ice,” says Kristina Wuss, director of the opera.
The premiere of Kalniņš’s Hamlet, with Jānis Zariņš as stage director, took place at the Latvian National Opera, with the composer conducting. For the purposes of the libretto, the author of the opera had abbreviated the philosophical dialogues and long monologues, without sacrificing the core of the tragedy. The newspaper Rīts gushed after the premiere: “It’s been a while since our stately opera house has experienced such a brilliant premiere; it’s been a while since a Latvian composer has been greeted with such ovations; it’s been a while since the audience has been so enthusiastic and responsive as yesterday when the young Latvian composer Jānis Kalniņš conducted his opera Hamlet for the first time.” Another, musically changed edition of the opera, again with Jānis Zariņš as director, was produced in 1943. In both productions, the outstanding Latvian tenor Mariss Vētra sang the title role and the charismatic baritone Ādolfs Kaktiņš was Claudius.