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It’s unlikely that we’ll see many Latvian operas entering the core repertoire of international companies, but Vilkaču Mantinieče (The Heiress of Vilkači) probably has a better chance than any other in the genre.

The story of the opera’s composition is almost as riveting as the work itself. Latvian-born composer Bruno Skulte started work on the piece in 1947 but abandoned it after he was forced to flee to America, following the Soviet takeover of his homeland.

The opera was completed after Skulte’s death by the conductor Andrejs Jansons, who recorded it in 2003, Skulte’s birth centenary. Jansons has championed the work ever since and it received its stage premiere at the Riga Festival last year, where it was filmed for this world premiere DVD release.

The story, adapted by Tonija Kalve from a 1940s novel, is one of bigotry, superstition, revenge and, finally, reconciliation in a rural community. This is Latvia’s answer to verismo opera, in the mould of Cav & Pag, with more than a nod to the folkloric but gritty style of Janáček.

Latvian National Opera’s production was directed by actress Inara Slucka and designed by Ieva Jurjane. The staging is busy, blowsy and feels lacking in focus, but the melodrama comes across powerfully in the music. This DVD proves that The Heiress of Vilkači could be more than just a passing curiosity, with a real claim to representing a ‘national style’ in the development of opera in the Baltics.

Franz Wulf Read the full review on Agora Classica

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