Opera Presents a Fascinating Chess Game

Opera Presents a Fascinating Chess Game
Kaspars Garda, Rīga 2014 . Kristaps Pētersons, Viesturs Meikšāns un Diāna Čivle
Kristaps Pētersons’ opera-lecture “Mikhail and Mikhail Play Chess” will have its premiere in the Latvian National Opera’s New Hall on Wednesday, the 12th of March. The new production is about a sensational chess game in 1960, in which Latvia’s legendary chess player Mikhail Tal defeated the famous Soviet champion Mikhail Botvinnik. During a press conference on the 5th of March, several members of the creative team confessed to have been avid chess players at one time or another.

Opera composer Kristaps Pētersons admitted that he was keen on chess, although he did not have time to play while composing the opera. One of the conductors of the opera, Ainārs Rubiķis said he had played chess back in school, whereas Atvars Lakstīgala said that he had learned the basics but had not approached a chess teacher yet. The opera’s librettist Sergejs Timofejevs sometimes plays chess against his computer, whereas singer Armands Siliņš, who will play the role of White Rook A1, used to play draughts but recently bought a chess book to learn how to play.


Diāna Čivle, the head of the “Riga 2014” foundation, also knows a thing or two about chess: “A while ago I used to think in chess terms. Upon entering a room, I thought to myself, this person must be a bishop, that one is a knight, and that one over there, a pawn. This kind of game can be very absorbing.” She believes it is very important for the European Capital of Culture to give artists the opportunity to experiment and create unusual combinations – such as a new opera. “But there is more to this process: we know that this particular work began some time ago, and has since expanded and developed. The new production brings back memories of meetings with people from the Draughts Union a couple of years ago who we informed about our plans. One of them was listening closely and finally said that he usually did not watch opera, but he would come to see this one. I think this is a good way to expand opera audiences, use things that are not associated with opera and music in any way to make people interested. I, too, have high expectations of the performance, and it seems to me that the creative team have given themselves many interesting challenges.”

“The black colour is for sinusoid and the B note, whereas white is for white noise and C,” composer Kristaps Pētersons explains the principle of depicting colours in the opera-lecture “Mikhail and Mikhail Play Chess”, adding that it was important to him to make the opera understandable to a person who does not know much about chess at all. “The main idea was to transfer a game of chess into music, for which I created my own system so I could bring to life this particular Game Six from the 1960 World Championship. To this end, the chess board is divided into notes, one note per square. When a chess piece moves it creates a motif, and these motifs make up the melodic structure of the opera,” comments composer Kristaps Pētersons, emphasising though that none of the two Mikhails who play the game will actually participate in the performance, the story will be retold by the chess pieces in the game.



It may seem odd that there are two conductors for the opera, or two kings: conductor Atvars Lakstīgala is the white king and Ainārs Rubiķis the black king. “This is a very interesting process because usually a conductor has to take into consideration soloists and musicians, whereas this time I also have to follow the other conductor. This is a new experience and a new school, which I really like and consider a great honour,” says Atvars Lakstīgala. Whereas Ainārs Rubiķis reveals that he is very pleased to have the opportunity to work with Kristaps Pētersons at the Latvian National Opera, adding that they have already worked together some time ago. “We were able to support and help each other,” the conductor says of the work process, adding that it means new experience. “We must respect each other. On the one hand, this is complicated, unusual and interesting. But as a conductor, I find it to be easier because, should something go awry, I can always turn my head to see where is what. The musical material is undoubtedly very interesting and complicated. When I began to go through the score, I sent Kristaps an SMS saying he was a genius, and what he had done was ingenious!”


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