The brief history of musical theatre in Klaipėda
German musical theatre (1820‒1944)
In November 1818, Justice Commissioner Carl Ludwig Wolffgram and two timber merchants from the then East Prussian city of Memel, named Ruppel and Woitkowitz, established a joint-stock company, purchased the land on the site of the modern-day Klaipėda Drama Theatre and undertook to build a theatre. The new two-storey classical-style brick theatre, with an auditorium of 200 seats, opened on January 1, 1820, with the production of Ludwig Benedikt Franz von Bilderbeck’s play Das Vaterherz (The Father’s Heart, 1806). But it was not before Johann Gottlieb Heckert was appointed Director of the theatre company (he and his wife were both singers and actors) and well-known musician Carl Traugott Eisrich (1776‒1835) was invited from Riga to take up the position of Music Director that the first professional opera company was formed in Klaipėda. Shortly thereafter, audiences in Klaipėda were introduced to the popular operatic repertoire of the time, which has included Friedrich Heinrich Himmel’s vaudeville Fanchon das Leyermädchen (Fanchon the Hurdy-Gurdy Girl) and Ferdinand August Kauer’s romantic opera Das Donauweibchen (The Danube River Nymph). After these first productions received some harsh criticism, the theatre turned to the operatic masterpieces such as Mozart’s La clemenza di Tito and Die Entführung aus dem Serail, Auber’s Fra Diavolo, Rossini’s Tancredi, Giovanni Paisiello’s La molinara and Carl Maria von Weber’s Der Freischütz. The company also introduced operas and Singspiels by lesser-known composers of the time, such as Henri-Montan Berton’s Aline, reine de Golconde, Wenzel Müller’s Die Schwestern von Prag, Pierre Gaveaux’s Le petit matelot and Paul Wranitzky’s Oberon – the Fairy King.
The company of forty actors and singers often went on extensive tours, visiting Vilnius and the region around Klaipėda during the seasons of 1820–1821, 1823, and 1824–1825. The theatre’s orchestra gave regular series of public concerts, often assisted by the wind orchestra from Tilsit.
The new theatre has been generously supported by the Klaipėda Tradesmen’s Union “Concordia,” established in 1826. At the invitation of this union, the highly reputable opera company from Königsberg visited Klaipėda during its summer season in August–September 1836. Along with this company came its second Kappelmeister, a 23-year-old German conductor and an aspiring composer Richard Wagner (1813‒1883), who fascinated the local audiences with his appearances on the conductor’s podium in several operas (including Carl Maria von Weber’s Euryanthe). In this menial capacity he followed his future wife Christine Wilhelmine “Minna” Planer whom he married later that year back in Königsberg. One of his greater achievements as a conductor at Königsberg Theatre was the benefit performance of Auber’s La muette de Portici, featuring Minna in the title role.
After the appointment of Franz Eduard Morohn, a capable impresario and actor, as director of the Klaipėda Theatre in 1841 (in 1959 he was succeeded by his wife, Johanna Morohn, who remained in this position until 1866), the company ventured into producing even more demanding works of the operatic repertoire, such as Mozart’s Don Giovanni and Die Zauberflöte, Rossini’s Guillaume Tell, Friedrich von Flotow’s Martha and Donizetti’s La fille du regiment.
On October 4, 1854, the theatre burned down during the Great Fire of Klaipėda. Historian Johannes Sembritzki mentions a curious fact that among the new productions Morohn was staging at the time was one entitled Spielt nicht mit dem Feuer! (Don’t Play with Fire!).
After the failed attempts to procure a loan from the city council for the construction of the new theatre, the ruins were purchased by the Scottish-born tradesman and commerce councillor John Mason who has rebuilt the theatre with the restaurant at his own expense by 1857. The theatre was officially opened on October 14, 1860. Performances resumed, yet Mason’s hopes to receive support from the public funds have been dashed and the theatre has been put up for auction in 1859 and, repeatedly, in 1869 when it was sold at a reduced price to the then director of the theatre, Herrmann Lincke (1866‒1882).
In 1893, the city purchased the theatre from Lincke’s heirs, with the financial support from the local merchant and ship builder, Ludwig Hohorst. The building was then refurbished and acquired its present-day neoclassical façade. The new city theatre possessed more lavish, imposing exterior and an auditorium with a seating capacity of nearly 800. Until the outbreak of World War I in 1914 when it was closed down, the Klaipėda City Theatre operated as one of the city’s cultural hotspots, hosting performances by the touring companies, concerts and other public events. Even though the theatre reopened in 1915, its focus was clearly on drama and comedy rather than productions of musical theatre.
After Germany’s loss of WWI in 1918 and the ensuing Treaty of Versailles in 1919, the Memel Territory was ceded to the Allied and Associated powers and remained under the control of the League of Nations until the plebiscite of the local population. Meanwhile the municipal theatre remained, from 1919 to 1923, under the supervision of the theatre section of the Gesellschaft für Verbreitung von Volksbildung (Society for the Dissemination of Popular Education), which provided considerable financial support on an annual basis and aimed to regain German political influence through culture.
Quite a few professional musicians and singers from Germany joined the orchestra and opera company of the then Stadttheater Memel. In 1921, 25 German musicians formed a symphony orchestra alongside the opera company, which performed major works of the classical and romantic repertoire.
With such considerable support, the artistic level of the German theatre in Klaipėda reached unprecedented heights. The company was then capable of staging not only operettas but also the more demanding operatic repertoire, such as Jacques Offenbach’s Les contes d’Hoffmann, Richard Wagner’s Der fliegende Holländer, Pietro Mascagni’s Cavalleria rusticana, Rugiero Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci and Adolphe Adam’s Le postillon de Lonjumeau.
Although the Klaipėda region was annexed by the Republic of Lithuania and was granted autonomy within its sovereignty by the Klaipėda Convention of 1924 signed between Lithuania and the Conference of Ambassadors, Germans continued to strengthen their influence in the region through culture. Gesellschaft der Freunde des Memeler Theaters (The Society of the Friends of the Memel Theatre), established in 1927 in Munich, supported the German theatre in Klaipėda by alotting generous donations, campaigning to collect money and otherwise support “an important hotbed of culture in the far North.” After Lithuania ceded the Memel territory to Germany in 1939, the German Theatre still operated during the years of World War II until summer of 1944.
The emergence of the Lithuanian opera company in Klaipėda (1928‒1930, 1934‒1935)
During the period of French administration, the “Aida” mixed choir produced Mikas Petrauskas’s one-act operetta Consilium facultatis at the Schützenhaus (present Klaipėda Concert Hall) – the first musical performance in the Klaipėda region produced solely by Lithuanian musicians.
After the Klaipėda region became an autonomous part of Lithuania, industrious Lithuanian composer and conductor Stasys Šimkus (1887‒1946), in cooperation with the local Lithuanian cultural society “Aukuras”, founded the first music school in Klaipėda. More than two thirds of its faculty in all the main disciplines were foreign musicians including the Czechs, Hungarians, Russians and Germans. In 1925, the school was granted the status of state school (hence till 1930 it was unofficially referred to as conservatory). That same year Šimkus conducted the first appearance of the Klaipėda Lithuanian Symphony Orchestra at the Schützenhaus. Two years later, in 1927, the above-mentioned operetta by Petrauskas received yet another production by joining the forces of the Klaipėda Singers’ Society, teachers and students of the Klaipėda State Music School, under the artistic direction of Antanas Vaičiūnas and Jeronimas Kačinskas.
In 1928, performers from the Klaipėda Music School, including soloists, symphony orchestra and choir, under the artistic leadership of Juozas Gaubas (1879‒1962), undertook to produce Charles Gounod’s opera Faust, which they have put on at the same Schützenhaus. This event marks the inception of the Lithuanian Opera in Klaipėda, which was active from 1929 to 1930. Unfortunately, the closing of the Klaipėda Music School in 1930 by decision of the Lithuanian government interrupted the budding activities of the Lithuanian opera and symphony orchestra in Klaipėda for several years. The activities of the music school nevertheless continued as a private entity supported by the Lithuanian cultural society “Aukuras” and Directorate of the Klaipėda Region.
Through the consolidated efforts of the local cultural community (mainly represented by the “Aukuras” society) and professional musicians attempts were made to revive the Klaipėda Symphony Orhestra and Lithuanian opera company. They invited the graduate of the Klaipėda Music School, composer and conductor Jeronimas Kačinskas (1907‒2005) to revive the symphony orchestra, which he did by gathering 45 musicians from very varied backgrounds and nationalities who worked in the local cafes, wind and dragoon orchestras, and the private music school. During its initial season of 1933‒34 the orchestra mounted six concerts, but its first major endeavour was the production of Giuseppe Verdi’s La traviata, which received its premiere on December 8, 1934, at the then Staatliches Theater Klaipėda (Klaipėda State Theatre). On his visit to Klaipėda in 1935, famous Russian bass Fyodor Chaliapin expressed his support for the burgeoning opera company in Klaipėda, cheered and wished the musicians the best of luck and unfading enthusiasm. In May 1935, Kačinskas conducted the premiere of the Klaipėda Opera company’s second production – Charles Gounod’s Faust, which appeared to be its last premiere: soonafter, the local and central government decided to cut support for the Lithuanian opera in Klaipėda and the company was liquidated that same year. In 1936, the symphony orchestra also ceased its activities.
Klaipėda Musical Comedy Theatre (1946‒1950)
Soon after the end of World War II and the re-occupation of Lithuania by the Soviet Union, the Klaipėda Musical Comedy Theatre began to be formed in 1945 in the premises of the Klaipėda Drama Theatre. Conductor and composer Klemensas Griauzdė (1905‒1983) was invited from Kaunas and appointed Artistic Director and Chief Conductor of the new theatre. He also reopened the Klaipėda music school, which has been closed down and transferred to Šiauliai since the Nazi occupation of the Klaipėda region in 1939. The theatre’s first production – musical performance with the music by Jonas Švedas titled Eglė Queen of the Grass Snakes – was premiered on March 27, 1946. This production received numerous performances despite constant reproaches on the part of Soviet authorities who criticized this production as a “work that veers away from the theatrical direction.” A number of later productions of the Klaipėda Musical Comedy Theatre have also earned similar descriptions, including Jacques Offenbach’s operetta La Périchole (June 14, 1947), Griauzdė’s own musical tale Cinderella (March 12, 1948), Robert Planquette’s comic opera Les cloches de Corneville (November 21, 1948), and Gioachino Rossini’s The Barber of Seville (March 31, 1949). More favourable opinions were only expressed about the productions of Soviet operettas, such as Boris Aleksandrov’s My Gyuzel (November 7, 1947) and Isaak Dunayevsky’s The Free Wind (June 22, 1948). However intense was the activity of the theatre, it has steadily fallen out of favour with the Soviet authorities. The premieres of the almost finished productions of Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin and Verdi’s La traviata were cancelled and the theatre was closed down in 1950.
Klaipėda People’s Opera Theatre (1956‒1986)
This did not however undermine Griauzdė’s willingness to organize musical life in Klaipėda: in 1953 he formed the mixed choir under the aegis of the Municipal Executive Committee (the choir is active to this day as the Klaipėda Mixed Choir “Klaipėda”). When he was invited to teach at the Lithuanian State Conservatory and finally left for Vilnius in 1956, his position as the choir director was taken over by the former deportee, Russian conductor, pianist and composer Aleksei Pozdneev (1904‒1969). He discovered that some choir singers were capable of performing opera as soloists and decided to continue work on the production of Eugene Onegin. For this purpose he also formed a small orchestra, which consisted of just 13 musicians including teachers and students of the Klaipėda Music School, as well as amateur players from around Klaipėda. Both singers and players worked without any financial reward. The opera nevertheless received its premiere in the packed auditorium of the Klaipėda Drama Theatre. Thus the mixed choir of the municipal executive committee and the semi-professional orchestra formed the core of the new opera company, which received the official title of the Klaipėda People’s Opera Theatre in 1959. The theatre operated as an amateur collective: the only paid full-time position was that of a theatre director, while the rest of the company – soloists, conductors, choir singers and orchestra musicians – were not paid for their rehearsals and performances.
The Klaipėda People’s Opera Theatre, which had a symphony orchestra, a chorus, soloists and later also a ballet company, operated for thirty years, until 1986. Over the years the theatre has mounted around 20 productions of operas (including Verdi’s La traviata in 1958 and 1978; Abelis Klenickis’ By the Nemunas River in 1960; Mascagni’s Cavalleria rusticana in 1963; Rachmaninov’s Aleko in 1967; Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore in 1974; Rossini’s La cambiale di matrimonio and Offenbach’s Les contes d’Hoffmann, both in 1985, Giedrius Kuprevičius’ There, Inside and Alvidas Remesa’s To Exchange Heart for Heart in 1986), operettas (including Strauss’s Der Zigeunerbaron in 1971 and 1981; Carl Millöcker’s Der Bettelstudent in 1978) and musical performances for children (such as Vano Gokieli’s Little Red Riding Hood in 1982). It also appeared on tour in the Soviet Union, Hungary, Bulgaria and East Germany. In 1984, the artistic staff of the theatre numbered 140 performers.
Klaipėda State Music Theatre (1987‒present)
As of January 1st, 1987, the Klaipėda People’s Opera Theatre reorganized into the Klaipėda State Music Theatre by a decree signed by the culture minister of the Lithuanian SSR. It was provided facilities of the House of Culture (designed by architect Algimantas Mikėnas, built in 1956‒59 and opened in 1963). Theatre director Gintas Žilys (1941‒2012) was appointed director of the theatre and remained in this position until 1991. The first production of the Klaipėda State Music Theatre of opera Mažvydas by the debutante composer Audronė Žigaitytė, directed by Žilys and conducted by Gintaras Rinkevičius, premiered on April 23, 1988.
For the first time in the history of musical theatre in Klaipėda the attention was drawn to ballet: the local audiences had the chance to relish the first dance production titled The Blue Danube, choreographed by Jurijus Smoriginas and conducted by Stasys Domarkas (b. 1939). During his tenure as the theatre’s Chief Conductor and Artistic Director (1995‒98) and Director (1998‒2004), Domarkas has introduced a number of classical operettas that have been previously heard in Klaipėda only occasionally and now became a staple repertoire, including Franz Lehár’s The Count of Luxembourg and Die lustige Witwe, Johann Strauss’s Der Fledermaus and Wiener Blut, Imre Kálmán’s Die Csárdásfürstin and Die Bajadere, Frederick Loewe’s My Fair Lady and V. Lebedev’s My Dear Friend! This however did not distract the theatre’s attention to the serious opera repertoire, which has included Rossini’s The Barber of Seville (1996), Puccini’s Suor Angelica (1996), Bizet’s Carmen (1998), Verdi’s Rigoletto (2003), Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro (2004) and Mascagni’s Cavalleria rusticana (2006). The themes touching upon the history and varied ethnic tradition of the Klaipėda region and Lithuania Minor (East Prussia) were reflected in the opera Prussians by Giedrius Kuprevičius, which received its first production in 1997 (directed by Nerijus Petrokas and with Virgilijus Noreika in the role of Herkus Monte), and in Žigaitytė’s second opera Žilvinas and Eglė (directed by Ramūnas Kaubrys), premiered in 2002 with Stasys Domarkas conducting and with Vytautas Juozapaitis in the title role.
In 1998, before the start of the new season, Stasys Domarkas initiated and organized the first opera and symphonic music summer festival in Klaipėda, titled “Musical August at the Seaside.” Ever since then the festival has captured audience’s attention with the abundance and diversity of represented genres including opera, operetta, musical, ballet, oratorio, instrumental and vocal orchestral and chamber music, and choral music. Its roster has featured both local artists and guest musicians from other Lithuanian cities and abroad in a variety of events held not only in Klaipėda but also further in the region including Nida, Juodkrantė, Preila, Palanga, Kretinga and Plungė.
In 2005, composer Audronė Žigaitytė-Nekrošienė (b. 1957) was appointed Director of the KSMT. Her first contribution to the spread of opera and classical music among wider audiences was an ongoing project “Musical Ferry,” which used to set sail every Saturday evening in July and August, cruising the Curonian Lagoon to the beats and rhythms of a wide range of live musical acts. The new festival “Opera.Lt” introducing Lithuanian musical works for the stage was launched at her initiative in 2007. She was also the first to bring up the necessity to start the construction of a new building with modern facilities for the staff and audiences of the KSMT.
Her successors – theatre director Ramūnas Kaubrys (2007‒8, 2010‒5) and opera singer Jonas Sakalauskas (2015‒8) – basically developed previously launched activities and projects.
When musicologist Laima Vilimienė took over as Director of the KSMT in 2018, the reconstruction of the theatre building finally took off the ground. With the whole theatre personnel rendered homeless, it was her responsibility to find new rehearsal spaces for the orchestra, chorus, soloists and ballet dancers, scattered around the city, and at the same time ensure the seamless flow of scheduled performances and concerts.
In 2019, the KSMT joined the celebrations dedicated to the centenary of birth of Eduardas Balsys (1919–1984), a distinguished Lithuanian composer who spent his adolescent years by the Baltic Sea. This occasion was commemorated by mounting a concert of Balsys’ symphonic music, the premieres of the newly produced ballet Eglė Queen of the Grass Snakes and opera The Journey to Tilsit, and a concert of Balsys’s popular songs titled “I am an old sailor.” The latter featured young musicians and soloists who have taken part in the first international young artists’ residency “Try out a career” organized by the KSMT in cooperation with the Klaipėda Faculty of the Lithuanian Academy of Music and Theatre. That same year the KSMT joined membership of the Opera Europa – a leading service organization for professional opera companies and opera festivals throughout Europe.
http://kultur-in-ostpreussen.de/memel (general overview of the German musical theatre in Klaipėda in the 19th and 20th centuries)
Johannes Sembritzki, Memel in neunzehnten Jahrhundert, 1902 (for digital copy see https://archive.org/details/bub_gb_7BYFAAAAYAAJ/)
Daiva Kšanienė, Klaipėdos muzikinio teatro (operos) raida 1945‒1986 metais ir jo priešaušris XIX a.‒XX a. ketvirtajame dešimtmetyje (istorinių, ideologinių, politinių, socialinių ir kultūrinių lūžių kontekstas), Klaipėda: Klaipėdos universiteto leidykla, 2016 (available only in Lithuanian)
Managers of the Klaipėda State Music Theatre:
Šarūnas Juškevičius, opera soloist (1987–9)
Gintas Žilys, theatre director (1989–91)
Algis Jonas Lukoševičius, conductor (1991–2)
Laisvė Dautartaitė, ballet master (1992–5)
Stasys Domarkas, conductor (1995–2004)
Audronė Žigaitytė-Nekrošienė, composer (2005–7, 2008–10)
Ramūnas Kaubrys, theatre director (2007–8, 2010–15)
Jonas Sakalauskas, opera singer (2015–18)
Laima Vilimienė, musicologist (2018–present)
© 2020 Klaipeda State Music THEATRE.
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Klaipėdos valstybinio muzikinio teatro modernizavimas
Projektas finansuojamas iš Europos regioninės plėtros fondo
Projekto Nr. 07.1.1-CPVA-V-304-01-0019
Klaipėdos valstybinis muzikinis teatras įgyvendiną teatro modernizavimo projektą, dalinai finansuojamą Europos regioninės plėtros fondo, pagal 2020-01-10 pasirašytą finansavimo ir administravimo sutartį su VšĮ Centrine projektų valdymo agentūra. Bendra projekto vertė 23 990 642,98 Eur, iš jų ES regioninės plėtros fondo lėšos - 9 510 736,93 Eur, Lietuvos Respublikos valstybės biudžeto lėšos – 14 479 906,05 Eur.
Pastato rekonstrukcijos techninis projektas buvo parengtas dar 2016 m. pabaigoje, rangovas parinktas 2018 m., rangos darbų viešąjį konkursą laimėjo UAB „Infes“. Klaipėdos valstybinio muzikinio teatro rekonstrukcija pradėta 2018 m. rugsėjo 14 d. Apie rekonstrukcijos pradžią iškilmingai paskelbta įkasant kapsulę ateities kartoms būsimo pastato pamatuose
Projekto tikslas – padidinti Klaipėdos valstybinio muzikinio teatro patrauklumą, teikiamų kultūros paslaugų prieinamumą ir kokybę
Klaipėdos valstybinis muzikinis teatras – didžiausias profesionalaus meno kolektyvas ne tik Klaipėdoje, bet ir visame Vakarų Lietuvos regione. Klaipėdos valstybinis muzikinis teatras įkurtas 1987 metų sausio 1 dieną, Klaipėdos liaudies operos teatrą reorganizavus į muzikinį teatrą. Per dvidešimt šešerius kūrybinės veiklos metus teatre pastatyta per 100 įvairių žanrų ir epochų sceninių veikalų, tai: operos, operetės, miuziklai, muzikinės dramos, baletai, šiuolaikinio šokio spektakliai, oratorijos, muzikiniai spektakliai vaikams.
Klaipėdos valstybinis muzikinis teatras teikia šias pagrindines paslaugas – rodo spektaklius (savo ir kitų gastroliuojančių teatrų repertuarą) Klaipėdoje, stato naujus spektaklius, teikia edukacines paslaugas, rodo spektaklius kituose miestuose (gastrolės), įgyvendina kultūrines programas. Teatras orientuojasi į platų visuomenės ratą kaip tikslinę žiūrovų auditoriją. Repertuaras bei spektakliai pritaikomi kuo įvairesnėms tikslinėms žiūrovų grupėms (atsižvelgiant į amžių, socialinę padėtį, pomėgius ir kt.), tokiu būdu siekiama formuoti teigiamą visuomenės požiūrį į teatrą ir pritraukti kuo įvairesnių visuomenės grupių atstovus.
Svarbi scenos infrastruktūra įrengta dar sovietų laikais ir šiuo metu visiškai neatitinka laiko realijų. Nėra galimybės greitai pakelti ir nuleisti dekoracijų, vystyti kitų meninių spendimų. Įdiegus šiuolaikinę scenos infrastruktūrą, būtų pagerintas ne tik vizualinis vaizdas, kuris svarbus žiūrovui, bet ir būtų sudaryta galimybė didesnei režisierių ir aktorių saviraiškai. Tai leistų statyti daugiau ir novatoriškesnių spektaklių.
Šiuolaikiniam jaunimui labai svarbu, kad teatro spektakliai atspindėtų tai, kas yra aktualu. Šiuolaikiniai spektakliai, kuriuose vyrautų jaunimo kultūra (vadinamoji „gatvės kultūra“), būtų naudojamos išmaniosios technologijos (kadangi tokias technologijas jaunimas naudoja ir kasdieniniame gyvenime) leistų padidinti susidomėjimą ne tik jaunimo tarpe, bet pritrauktų ir kitų amžiaus lankytojų grupes, kurios nori susipažinti su siek problemomis. Įdiegus tinkamą scenos įrangą, galima būti kurti vizualinius pasakojimus, kurie taptų neatsiejama spektaklių dalimi.
Šiuo metu Vakarų Europoje ir JAV vyrauja tendencija, kad teatras turi būti aprūpinamas naujausia technine įranga, kuri leistų kurti visiškai naujo lygio pasirodymus. Tokia įranga leidžia išreikšti spektaklio herojaus išgyvenimus vizualiai, scenoje projektuoti vaizdinius, sukurti reikiamą atmosferą (keičiant šviesos spektrą, intensyvumą, spalvą, galima sukurti baimės, gėrio, jaukumo ir kt. atmosferą). Gera garso sistema leistų pasiūlyti įvairesnių garso sprendimų. Labai svarbu pažymėti, kad režisieriai, turėdami tokias priemones, galėtų lengviau interpretuoti scenarijus, pasirinkti sprendinius, kurie iki šiol, dėl techninių sąlygų, nebuvo galimi.
Įgyvendinus projekto veiklas, numatoma pasiekti projekto tikslą - padidinti Klaipėdos valstybinio muzikinio teatro patrauklumą, teikiamų kultūros paslaugų prieinamumą ir kokybę. Bus pasiekti tokie rezultatai: