On March 23, 2010, the opera Julius was premiered before a large and enthusiastic audience in Vilnius, Lithuania.  People came from the U.S. and from Europe.  Lithuanians both young and old from across Lithuania came.  President Valdas Adamkus came.


Why did an opera attract such a diverse crowd?  No one knew what the music would sound like, but each audience member was connected by an important stage in history.


The DP period during and immediately following World War II represented a crossroads for thousands of Eastern Europeans, including Lithuanians, fleeing from oppression, deportation, and death.  How does one choose between family and home?  How long can one bear to be without solid ground?  What does it mean to be free?


Those who came to the premiere were interested in these same questions.  Some knew the DP experience firsthand, while others simply wished to better understand the events of an almost forgotten period in history and the hopes and fears of those who lived it.



About Julius  


Julius sang Lithuanian songs throughout his long and eventful life.  When he and his family left Lithuania during the Second World War, his songs were among the few things he was not forced to leave behind.  He sang them as a DP in Germany and for over 50 years after arriving in the United States, and when he passed away in 2004, he left behind not only countless stories of his experiences, but a collection of his favorite songs recorded by his family.


Four years later, motivated by the songs and stories he heard growing up, Julius’ grandson, the young composer Charles Halka, began a project to commemorate his grandfather’s life as well as the lives of thousands of others who made the painful decision to leave home with little hope of ever returning.


With Julius’ recordings and the support of a Fulbright grant from the U.S. Department of State, Halka moved to Lithuania to discover the history behind his grandfather’s songs and find in them the inspiration for a musical work of considerable proportions.


Shortly after arriving in Vilnius, he was introduced to Marija Simona Šimulynaitė, a young Lithuanian director, writer, and choreographer who, upon learning more about the project, enthusiastically agreed to write the libretto for and eventually direct the production of a full-length opera based on Julius’ life as a DP and the songs he loved.


For more than a year, Halka and Šimulynaitė collaborated on the story and the music and together created the vision that would become the opera Julius.  As the premiere date drew closer, more and more artists joined the project until, a month before the performance, the group had grown to almost fifty people, including the soloists, chorus, orchestra and conductor, dancers, stage and lighting designers, and more.


On premiere night, the work was received with a standing ovation and wild cheers from the audience.  Lithuanian newspapers, national television and radio stations, and websites were alive with news of the new work and the painful period of history it recalled.  Most importantly, however, the opera represented a bond among artists of a younger generation, proving that by remembering our shared past, new and meaningful relationships can develop for the future.

 

"…a powerful tribute to the fate of postwar emigrants."

-Asta Andrikonytė, Lietuvos Rytas

"I'm so happy this work came about.  No one remembers us, "God's little birds;" no one speaks of us."

-Vita Laumė, writer, poet, and former DP

"...traditional folk melodies combined organically with a contemporary musical language."

-Asta Andrikonytė, Lietuvos Rytas

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"Some moments moved the audience to tears."

-Inga Gobaitė, Vakaro Žinios

Photos by Jurgis Sakalauskas

“This role is special... we’re dealing with our painful national history.”

-Ona Kolobovaitė, soprano