True Lithuania

Theater, Opera and Ballet in Lithuania

Some Lithuanian theatre-goers used to proclaim that Lithuanian theater directors are better known abroad than at home. This sentence marks both the quality of Lithuanian theater and the supposed lack of appreciation for it in Lithuania itself. This was always an exaggeration but the Lithuanian directors like Eimuntas Nekrošius, Oskaras Koršunovas or Rimas Tuminas are indeed regular guests at world class theater festivals. Yet they are also greatly enjoyed by the Lithuanian public with some plays getting sold out weeks or months in advance.

Theater tickets are cheaper in Lithuania than in the West. However, the performances are not aimed at tourists as all plays are in Lithuanian language (with the exception of the Russian repertoire of Vilnius Russian Drama Theater). If that doesn’t detract you there are many theaters in all the major cities. Some of the main state-sponsored ones are the Nacionalinis dramos teatras, Jaunimo teatras, Mažasis teatras (all in Vilnius), Kauno dramos teatras (Kaunas), Klaipėdos dramos teatras (Klaipėda), Šiaulių dramos teatras (Šiauliai), Juozo Miltinio dramos teatras (Panevėžys). In Vilnius, there is also a commercial Domino theater which offers a repertoire of lighthearted comedies.

However, all of the above are merely a pinnacle of Lithuania’s theater world as there are many small troupes, some of which have their own premises while others perform in a different hall every time. In summer theaters travel around the country and show plays in resort towns such as Palanga.

Opera and ballet are more accessible to foreigners. Operas are now always presented in the original language with Lithuanian subtitles. Operettas, on the other hand, are presented in the translated form. The ticket costs are not expensive by western standards. The plays are less innovative than some of those at drama theaters and consist of the classics sometimes adorned with modern decorations. There is a single opera and ballet theater in Lithuania (in Vilnius). Additionally, the “Bohemiečiai” troupe presents its irregular performances of operas and musicals sometimes. In Kaunas, Klaipėda and Panevėžys there are so-called “Musical theatres” (Lithuanian: muzikinis teatras). Their repertoire also holds more international appeal than that of drama theaters.

Historically, the Lithuanian theater developed relatively late. Before the 19th century, the rare local performances were not in Lithuanian language and catered to linguistic minorities which then dominated the high society. In 1864 the ruling Russian Empire banned Lithuanian language altogether. This didn't stop the subsequent National Revival. Among many popular illegal institutions that developed in Lithuanian-speaking villages were so-called "barn theaters", which offered amateur-yet-emphatic clandestine Lithuanian performances.

Lithuania established its professional national theater after independence (1918). During the totalitarian Soviet occupation (1940-1990) theater became even more popular as its directors dared to subtly criticize the government (the ephemeral nature of performances made them harder to censor than other media). That role was however lost after independence was restored (1990). It took a decade before theater found its new role and regained popularity locally.

Article written by Augustinas Žemaitis

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