"Love is a God's gift"
You mentioned earlier in our conversation that as a young man you even had to pose for photographers up on a tree… So would you say that this staging of ‘Liliom’ has been fused with nostalgia? As I think, it must be already forty years since the previous one.
Yes, it was exactly forty years ago. So we will celebrate a jubilee in a way. But it isn’t an aging nostalgia. You know, the longer you live in the world the more you wish to convey positive and warm emotions in your work on the stage. While in youth you are more interested in something more extreme. (Pauses to think.) This play is very dear to me and I like it a lot, so I think it was meant to happen that we staged it at the moment. Everything happens as it should.
There was a talk that ‘Liliom’ should be staged for the 100th anniversary of National Theatre, which is five years ahead. (Laughs.) But I said: If you want me to make it, perhaps you better allow me to do it now, for who is to say what may happen in five years? I could be then already fully retired or in another world altogether… And the theatre was supportive and let me stage it now.
In my view, ‘Liliom’ is a visiting card of National theatre.
Yes, it is, but because of Liliom’s song. Uldis Dumpis once mentioned very much spot on that the legend surrounding the play should be attributed to this famous song. Talking to many people, I hear everybody say – yes, we know it! When you ask what the play is about, all you get is “See, the sky is fallen apart again!” But there are other songs in the play – Mushkatne and Mirchur’s songs as well.
‘Imants Kalniņš’ music is wonderful and Māris Čaklais’ texts are very beautiful!’
Which was why so many of us in theatre wanted Kalniņš to be the composer of ‘Liliom’, in the first place – he blew life into its organism; like he did with ‘The Prince and the Pauper’ as well.
You said that you wish to convey warm and positive emotions. Was it also the reason for choosing ‘Liliom’?
I think as you look over repertoire of theatres In Latvia you will find many beautiful, wonderful pieces of theatre. But positive and warm emotions are absent.
Asked to tell what is the performance about what would you say?
I’d be short and traditional – it is about love; about love being a gift from God, not everyone is chosen to receive and you have to know how to receive it. But Liliom doesn’t and can’t and he loses it. But Julia, being a woman, is able to preserve these feelings within – as a value in itself. (Thinks.)
Photo: Janis Deinats
It is a story Julia being able to keep Liliom within even when he is no longer there. She sings about it; she preserves him in their child; she retains him in her heart. While Liliom who has been lucky to earn the wonderful love of Julia, lets it run through his fingers.
You have chosen young Kaspars Dumburs as interpret of Liliom. The responsibility must be double…
It is impossible to replicate the first staging. Kaspars will be, essentially, who he is – with his nature, his understanding of the part. Speaking of that responsibility… Of course, it is sometimes terrifying – the burden of responsibility weighing you down and getting in the way of creativity. But that lath is also relative… After all, who will remember now how did Dumpis or Jakovļevs play it? All we remember is a cinematic frame with one or the other on the merry-go-round singing Liliom’s song. He was light on his feet and artistic, but, essentially, he was a scoundrel, the romantic crook… (Laughs.)
‘I think the beauty of this role lies in its amplitude: from being a gigolo and a self-assured rascal to extremely sensitive, emotional man and an artist.’
When you deprive him from his place on the merry-go-round, which is the paradise of those people in their suburb…
Imagine maids who have been saving up for entire week for their chance to have a round on the carousel and their popsicle on Sunday, but, most of all, to catch a look of Liliom and hope he would take a seat next to them? But here is also another Liliom who feels lonely and cannot find his place in life, and still another one, who beats his wife… It is a wonderful, rich and interesting part.
And do you think Kaspars will top it?
A have a great belief in him. If I didn’t, there would not be this role. Yes, he is maybe not too experienced yet, but I keep fingers crossed for him to succeed and try to help. His understudy is Ivars Kļavinskis who is a more experienced professional actor. But I think that there is one thing which can help interpret Liliom and that is youth; which is why I have given Julia’s part to a second year acting student Agnese Kostigova – she is a lovely girl! She is also inexperienced, of course, but her nature, I think, gives her advantage to play Julia successfully. And perhaps not so much by stagecraft as by her human and female essence – also a very beautiful thing!
‘There are many wonderful actors, but how many are those who can play love? They can be lovers and loving people in life, but they cannot play love on stage and convince me of their love. It is something else.’
It is not given to just everyone, but Agnese has this gift, I think.
But what you also need is experience in life to play love convincingly.
(Smiles.) I think Agnese will be able to play the part, since she is about to marry this summer. I don’t think you marry quite without love…
Returning to songs, have you included all of the songs of the previous version?
It is very interesting and it was a real problem for me, as in director Alfrēds Jaunušāns’ version, all the songs were relegated to the prologue, creating a kind of singing marry-go-round. I thought what I should do, for I did not want to repeat this device. First, I wanted to disperse the songs within the play, but then I decided for something else: since three of the songs – Marika’s, Julia’s and Muškātne’s motives – are about love, although quite different kinds of love, I moved them to beginning of the play, to introduce the theme of love right on emotionally. Liliom’s song will be heard early in the play as well, sang by new and classic Liliom as a duo. And only Fichur’s song will be heard later on in the process.
Photo: kaspars Garda, Riga-2014
And were you a fan of marry-go-rounds as a child?
In my days as a child, in 1950s, it was a very rare pleasure. I wanted it a lot, but now I have to try hard to remember whether we even had any carousels in Riga back then. And I think I must have missed this pleasure then, I just knew that such things existed and had seen them in picture books. So it was a strange thing, that when I was already advanced in years – in my mid thirties – and went to America for the first time, we were taken to Disneyland. There were all those rides and what not.
We were spared the most scary ones, but it was beautiful!
‘I can’t even tell you how happy I was! I was ready to try all the attractions in a row: to take carousels, to jump on those pirate ships… So happy! It must have been self-compensation for what I had missed as a child. And if someone would say to me today – you can get to Disneyland again, I would not miss the chance. I really like it.’
Every time I go to Paris, I always remember on my way back: oh, I forgot there is Disneyland outside Paris as well! People would have a ball, I guess, watching this elderly gentleman enjoying the park… Marry-go-round is such a lovely thing after all!’
Maybe the ensemble of ‘Liliom’ can get to Budapest where the hero of Ferenz Molnar’s play lived and take some rides on carousels there?
This is what actors always say – you have to go to France, if you are making a French play. (Smiles.) The most we have dared to afford ourselves was to go to ‘Braki’ homestead for Rūdolfs Blaumanis research.
And, in the process of making ‘The Green Land’ by Andrejs Upītis, we have made a tour of Skrīveri town – where Brīviņš had passed with his cart. Now, it is no longer a problem, if you have means you can go.
You mentioned that ‘Liliom’ has been made into a ballet and also staged in Vilnius. Has this theme re-emerged because people are starved for love?
Yes, that could be the case. Another one is that it is a very fulfilling play – to be made into ballet or film, in that bracket. For it is a beautiful story. Of course, actors have to be very generous to be able to play it.
The marry-go-around – you have surely retained that in this staging?
No, I have not. (Smiles.) Because the interesting part is the space we open for fantasy. Carousel music will be there and a sense of its presence, but no material thing. You see, to put a marry-go-round on stage – it is an illustration in part, and the carousel, in this case, is something more than just an attraction – it is the suburban paradise with Liliom in the center who promises pleasure to the citizens of suburbia. He is eternal. He is that kind of male, which women are attracted to. Not the goody, the other one – women are always in love with the bad ones, the rebellious and independent, while also romantic ones. And I think that the legend of Liliom – like also this type of man – is eternal.