Valentina: Kristīne Gailīte
Dima: Juris Ādamsons
Aleksey: Mihails Čuļpajevs
Valentina Today: Ieva Kepe
Valentina, the first opera by the internationally celebrated Latvian composer Arturs Maskats, celebrates a legendary figure and film historian Valentina Freimane (1922.-2018.). The opera revisits a dramatic period in the history of Latvia – 1939 to 1945 – a chapter that was crucial not only for the country’s culture and political future, but also for the coexistence of Latvia’s different ethnic groups. Freimane spent her childhood in Riga and Berlin, where her father worked as a lawyer for UFA film studios and her mother was an influential member of society and on intimate terms with the film greats of the time. On their return to Riga, this educated Jewish family succumbed to the Holocaust. Freimane’s parents and husband were murdered; Freimane herself survived the war in hiding.
“The story of Valentina Freimane’s life is inextricably linked with the history of both Latvia and Europe, and opens up a fresh perspective on a time period shot through with colour and contradiction. The most dramatic moments of Valentina’s life coincide with momentous events of the 20th century, such as the country’s loss of independence – an experience that left Latvians physically and emotionally drained. And yet, Valentīna is more than simply a political work: shimmering through the depicted events is a story of profound sentiment and great love.” — Arturs Maskats.
It is spring, the Easter of 1939. A company has gathered around the table in the sunny family dining room – Valentina’s mother with an admirer, Valentina’s father, and Alexey. The guests entertain themselves. Children are playing their games, Valentina, Alexey, and the governess among them. Games having ended, Valentina as the youngest one at the family table poses the four questions of Ma Nishtan ritual before the meal, and they are answered by the oldest one amongst those who are present – her father.
A festive atmosphere prevails and dances begin in the flat. Valentina’s mother dances with her admirer, and they mention Valentina and Alexey as they converse. The cavalier indicates that these young people could make a nice couple, to which Valentina’s mother responds that no one except Valentina herself will chose the person to share her life with. In the celebratory mood, Valentina and her mother exchange words, and their conversation reveals that Valentina is in love and the name of her chosen one is Dima.
In a country house, Valentina is teaching English to children. Nearby, the old farmer – their landlord is seen engaged in his daily work around the farm. Valentina ends her session with children and notices Dima in the distance who has arrived from Riga. They meet and give themselves to their shared solitude. As the summer twilight falls, their landlord is reading his newspaper in the moonlight when Valentina and Dima return and engage him in conversation about the news of the day. Farmer shares his dark premonitions for future.
Gathered around a table in a pub, Valentina, Dima, and Alexey are seen. At neighbouring tables, there are fraternity members toasting the beginning of their academic year, discussing politics, sharing a glass and singing. Dima, Valentina, and Alexey turn their conversation to politics, but, next, Dima and Valentina start questioning Alexey about his exploits in summer. Alexey tells them about his experience and introduces them to Valdis. Dima, Valentina, Alexey, and Valdis leave the pub when they are seen by Valdis’ cousin Elsa who follows them. Four friends wander the boulevards of Riga. Seeing Dima and Valentina together, Elsa is gripped by jealousy, as she is in love with Dima. Friends end their walk only with the first rays of dawn.
Latvia has been invaded by the Soviet Union. In their apartment, Valentina and her mother and father are deep in conversation. Her father is worried about their future, while mother discusses the order imposed by the new regime. A sense of fatality and imminent war prevails. Preoccupied, Valentina’s mother urges her to marry Dima. They receive the news about the beginning of war.
Early in the days of Nazi occupation, Valentina and her mother and father prepare to leave their flat to go to the ghetto. Her father is ready for this fate, but urges Valentina and her mother to stay and find a hiding place. Her mother asserts she is willing to follow her husband to ghetto. Valentina would go with her parents as well, but they insist that she should stay with her husband Dima. Valentina’s parents join other members of Jewish population, which is marched to the ghetto.
Valentina and Dima are alone in apartment and, in hopes of dispelling their sense of encroaching ill fate, make attempts at learning phrases in Swedish. They discuss what they have heard whispered in town – that those rounded in the ghetto are taken to outskirts of Riga and none of them has been seen to return. Valentina and Dima reminisce about their summer stay in the country house. Their reverie is cut short by a banging of fists against their door. Dima orders Valentina to hide and goes to open the door. Two members of Schutzmannschaften enter apartment searching for Dima’s wife, Jewish Valentina. The Schutzmannschaften interrogate Dima and shoot him. Then, intruders rob the apartment and hurry to leave it. Valentina flees from her family apartment and laments her murdered husband.
Officers’ ball is gleeful and overflows with champagne. Elsa is among its many guests. Wearing officer’s uniform, Valdis is also present in the event; he is tormented by his conscience. Elsa and Valdis run into each other in the ball, and Elsa confides in him about her broken heart, for the reason that Valdis had introduced her beloved Dima to Valentina. Elsa admits her present indifference towards Dima. After Elsa leaves, Valdis discusses the gains brought by war with a pair of Schutzmannschaften. They tell Valdis about seeing his photo in an apartment of Jewish family they have looted and about a husband who had tried to hide his Jewish wife in those rooms. Valdis leaves his chance companions who continue their revelry. Left alone, Valdis suffers an inner torment as a collaborator of murderers, but keeps hope that he would be able to save his friends.
The streets of Riga; Alma is taking Valentina to another flat where she could hide. Valentina tries to delete the addresses of the places she has been hiding in from her memory in order not to endanger their owners. Suddenly, on a street corner, Elsa is seen to be standing who notices Valentina and Alma. Elsa is surprised as she has been convinced that Valentina would have lost her life. Latgalian Alma is praying in her mother tongue on their way to the next safe haven for Valentina. Alma takes her to Doctor’s address.
On his way to flee the state along with withdrawing German army force, Valdis says his parting words to Alexey. Alexey wishes to join him. Valdis convinces him to stay while, himself, he should take the road.
Valentina is busy on a work of embroidery, safely sheltered in Doctor’s house. Doctor and Valentina turn to discuss the notable signs of time.
The town has been abandoned by German troops, and Valentina emerges from her hiding place into its empty streets. Valentina is saved.