As the pandemic continues to pose challenges to all of society, politics, the economy and especially the performing arts, the Croatian National Theatre in Rijeka steadily approaches them not only responsibly and transparently, but also creatively.
In all phases of adopting or relaxing anti-epidemic measures, we have not only adhered to all the requirements, but have at times also made special decisions that were even stricter than the recommendations, all to increase the level of protection and safety of the audience and our employees. For example, rehearsals were interrupted at any suspicion of infection, and a confirmed case in any ensemble meant not only postponing the program, but also – more importantly – stopping the infection. And since the beginning of the pandemic, we at Zajc have not received information regarding even a suspicion that an infection could have occurred in the auditorium.
After all that has been done and achieved, our latest challenge is to bring opera performances back to the stage, of course with a creative approach to new protective measures and adherence to all previous ones introduced during the performances of Aida and Carmen: the orchestra on stage, with the prescribed safety distance between musicians; soloists performing either at a distance or wearing visors if they interact closely, or, in the case of artists for whom contact is necessary, interactions are limited to always take place between the same people.
Since the measure “Suspension of Performing Complex Musical and Stage Works Involving Orchestras and Choirs” came into force on November 28 last year, i.e. works in which the orchestra and choir perform together, we have been developing new forms of opera performance at the Rijeka National Theatre over the past six weeks, to be presented in late January and the subsequent months.
For the new performances of Bizet’s Carmen, which are scheduled for January 21 and 23, the direction has been adapted to the new measures with a major reduction of the choir. Some choir pieces will not be performed, others will be assumed by soloists, with performers being tested for SARS-CoV-2 prior to the performance (if they have not already acquired immunity), and visors used in shared scenes. The astonishing and defiant Michaela Selinger returns to the title role, alongside Aljaž Farasin and Luka Ortar in the roles of Don Jose and Escamillo.
During the performance of Mascagni’s opera Cavalleria rusticana, which will premiere on January 27, conducted by Maestro Paolo Bressan and directed by Dražen Siriščević, the choir will sing in the rehearsal hall, i.e. completely separate from the stage and auditorium, with the sound transmitted to the main hall. Thus, the spectators will be able to experience this opera in all its musical splendor, albeit while strictly adhering to all measures and our certainty that the dramatic musical and acting presence of Rijeka opera principals Kristina Kolar, Domagoj Dorotić and Robert Kolar will be able to compensate for the choir’s physical absence from the stage.
Rehearsals are also in progress for the staging of a favorite opera performed around the world, Verdi’s La traviata, which not only strictly respects virus protection measures, but also thematizes the tragedy of illness, suffering and isolation in the earth-shattering performance by Rijeka theatre principals Anamarija Knego and Aljaž Farasin, and guest soloist Kevin Greenlaw. In La traviata, conducted by Maestro Valentin Egel and dramatized and directed by Marin Blažević, we will continue to explore the possibilities of physical absence, and the vocal or sound presence of the choir in the performance, already tested in Carmen and Cavalleria rusticana.
Zajc will soon turn over new pages of opera performance, which will enable a special experience of those operatic works of art while adhering to current anti-epidemic measures.
Photo: Vladimir Mudrovčić