Foreman: Guntars Ruņģis
The theatre piece I Played, I Danced was written during the wartime of 1916. The author, poet, and playwright Rainis is a central figure in Latvian literature, as well as the social and political processes of that period. The play tells the story of a witty vagabond and bard – Tots. He goes into the underworld to bring back his young bride Lelde, abducted from her wedding by the old Lord, who terrorises and suppresses the people. On his way, Tots discloses and transforms the realms of the suffering dead, of the devils, and of the living, aiming for a better future. However, it is he himself who has to change the most. Playwright Rainis merges together characters of Latvian mythology with the current political issues of his time, setting into the centre his ideal of the “Man of Future”.
In 1977, the composer Imants Kalniņš put the play to music. Imants Kalniņš is a symbol of the Latvian anti-establishment art scene. Composing academic as well as popular music, he has his own very particular and distinctive expression of music that has left a major impact. In the opera I Played, I Danced, spectators hear folkloristic reminiscences of Latvian traditional music blended into Imants Kalniņš’ ornamental and elaborate musical language.
Leading young Latvian director Laura Groza-Ķibere, together with visual artist Miķelis Fišers, bring out the wild energy of this opera and through it consider the present Latvian society. Are the ideas of Rainis still relevant today? Should one fight the demons of the past to enliven a new vision for the future?
The wedding of Zemgus and Lelde is about to be celebrated by the Riga Castle on the Daugava Embankment. Suddenly some mummers appear uninvited – the musician Tots, the Witch, the Blind Man, and the Lame Man. Tots sings, and his song rouses a sense of freedom and love of life that Lelde has not known before. In predicting the future, the Witch sees a threat to Lelde. During the wedding ceremony, the old Lord arrives unseen and steals three drops of blood from Lelde. The strings on Tots’s kokle (traditional Latvian string instrument) snap, and a fire starts at the Riga Castle. The wedding has been interrupted and the fire is raging. Zemgus is mourning the loss of Lelde. Tots, who also mourns her, demands of Mother Earth to return the girl from the dead. The Mole Cricket appears; speaking for Mother Earth, he brings the message of the power of song in fighting evil. In support of Tots’s quest, he gives him a root to replace the broken string. The voices of the dead are heard, they plead with Tots to also fight for them: their remembrance and peace is disturbed by suffering visited on them by devils. The voices and the past are represented by the keepers of the collection of the National History Museum in the castle. Tots finds out that Lelde can be restored to life with the help of the candle-of-the-dead and the three drops of blood stolen by the Lord.
Devils’ night in the Ambassadors Hall of the Riga Castle. Tots arrives, finding the Lord drunk on Lelde’s blood. Pretending to be one of the dead, Tots and the Lord wake up the devils that have moved into the Castle. Tots entertains the devils and the witches with his sharp tongue and receives a devil’s tail to use as a string for his kokle. His instrument is gaining an ever richer sound that combines two different worlds. Tots finds the sleeping, weakened Lelde who, however, is not yet fully in devils’ power, since it is only her very first night in the underworld. Lelde gives him her hair for a string. Tots promises to fix up a wedding for the Lord and Lelde to cheat her drops of blood out of the Lord. Fascinated by Tots’s antics, the devils and witches tear out the Lord’s vein for Tots’s kokle and steal back the three drops of blood, which are spilled and seep into the ground. Tots’s song moves the Three-headed Demon King, who sees in Tots his long-lost son and offers him to inherit the devils’ realm. Tots refuses. He professes his ambition to unite the nether regions of the world with the higher ones. Tots calls for the help of the dead, who give him the candle-of-the-dead. With it, he fights and conquers the devils, driving them off. Tots can now revive Lelde, yet the candle was not given to him only for saving Lelde – he must bring the remembrance of the dead to the present and into the future.
Morning at the Riga Castle where reconstruction work has begun. The mummers tell the story of the events that took place during the night. Tots brings Lelde over and lights the candle whose light must meet sunlight in order for the dead to rest in peace and for Lelde to revive. The sun is rising, the dead thank Tots and depart, but Lelde cannot wake up. Mother Earth and the dead have taken the spilled blood for themselves. Someone has to sacrifice himself for Lelde to live. When Zemgus fails to do so, Tots musters all his willpower and gives Lelde his blood. Lelde revives and takes over Tots’s song. Tots dies. The Mole Cricket announces that he is saint and will continue living in the people.