Operomanija 2018–19 Review: Have A Good Day!

Lithuanian Indie Opera Fights Against Mass Consumption

By Polina Lyapustina

Since Lithuania became a part of European Union in 2004, the country was overwhelmed by processes of integration and globalization along with the westward migration, which took 50 percent of natives away.

So it isn’t surprising that one of the brightest Lithuanian contemporary operas, “Have a Good Day,” spent last five years on tour around the world since it was premiered here in Vilnius in 2013.

Creators, who are scattered across Europe, came up with the idea to make an opera together because it suited perfectly for composer, librettist and stage director. They wanted to do something important, revealing real problems of both: a world, filled with distracting occasions, more than real problem discussions, and opera, stuck with repeating classics without using such a perfect medium to reflect a contemporary life. 

Opera for 10 cashiers

Or more precisely “Opera for 10 cashiers, supermarket sounds and piano” — this is how the authors introduce the opera to the audience.

A Supermarket: global — yes; distracting — definitely; problematic — probably; personal — is it?

People in the main hall of Art Printing House started to discuss their expectation before the beginning of this sold-out performance. The opera focuses on the private lives of cashiers in a supermarket, reflecting what’s behind their mechanical “Thank you! Have a good day!” and fake smiles. The main question was: is the inner life of “little man” still interesting and could be the main topic in Postmodern art, as it was in Realism?

Showing the tickets to the security guard, we passed an alarm gate and saw them immediately on stage: 10 cashiers, sitting on the high platforms and blankly scanning barcodes. Lights, sounds, atmosphere — so real, so familiar — it’s a supermarket.

And then in a total silence, with a very quiet aria, the performance began.

Robert Ashley Moment

The sound solutions for this opera were composed by Lina Lapelytė in a very contemporary way: both minimalistic and noisy. It’s definitely tuneful, but more like multilayered aural hypertext, than accompaniment. And that was clearly the composer’s intent.

We heard the piano a few times shortly in the background, complementing the most emotional parts, and once during a short interlude. All the music pitches consist of beeping sounds and arias are tuned to it. 

Returning to A cappella — one more thing, which is unfairly forgotten in contemporary operas, is another point of this opera as a manifesto. Background vocal solutions are complicated, written precisely, and were so well-balanced as to never interrupt even the quietest arias. 

Vocal Diversity and Vocal Unity

Singers in “Have A Good Day” have different backgrounds: opera, jazz, choral singing and pop-music, and even having same voice types (soprano and counter-alto) they sound amazingly different, and also play different (not only personal) parts during the performance. 

The choir plays a huge role. While every character has its own important story, the choir (of the same singers) is the most powerful medium in this production.

The first time we hear it, it’s gentle — supplementing one cashier singing “Lullaby To The Sleeping Products.” It shows us a restless life of cashiers: all of them together struggling in their existence with neither satisfaction nor rest. But then everything changes with “Hello! Thank you! Have a good day!” choir, and we cannot hear the voices of people in here already — they merge into a new entity. This powerful piece, having “Hello! Thank you! Have a good day!” on repeat sticks in memory instantly, and there is no doubt that everyone probably repeated in their heads it after the performance.

That’s how Consumption took the audience metaphorically and even physically.

The Stories

In this opera, the choir “decides” what’s important, and what audience will hear. Sometimes it interrupts an aria in the most interesting moment, depriving a singing character the ability to share the full story. Some of cashiers even try to confront it with the power of voice, but mostly lose. 

Cashiers’ stories are different and seem real. And that’s definitely a merit of the librettist Vaiva Grainytė and the cast. Since they were chosen five years ago, they honed the skill every time they played, and now look absolutely believable. Another thing is that even the libretto was changed partly after casting to be better suited to every singer and character. 

A new girl, a foreigner, a single mother, a suburbia habitant, a girl with Masters in Art history no one wants to hire — all are contemporary archetypes, we all see them every day. And yet, their problems are more in Realism tradition of art, and modern opera audience could barely associate themselves with it. 

The White Box

Maybe because of this distance director Rugilė Barzdžiukaitė set the stage as a white box: no action, no shelves with goods. “You can easily imagine it, if you want, because of sounds,” — Rugilė said.

But do we want this? The white space and blinking lights are both a trick to concentrate on stories and a metaphor of the inner world of wasted people. And seeing them like this we don’t want to imagine ourselves as happy customers, not anymore. 

Annoying loud sound invades the last aria, lights start to blink aggressively, we are losing heroines in darkness. We all finally feel the same: powerlessness in face of something bigger then we are.

Consumption culture is a monster, created by us. A moment of unity to face the common enemy. And then…

The blinding light of all the lamps. We see them all again: 10 cashiers, sitting on the high platforms and continuously scanning barcodes. There is no enemy and no one’s going to fight. They still scan, we still consume. 

This small independent opera was created by three artists from Lithuania who continue to fight against the global problem on stages across the globe. They are already involved in another project dedicated to environmental issues — “Sun and sea.” It will be shown in Baltic pavilion at La Biennale di Venezia 2019.

But will these operas be drowned out by the flow of distraction, mass culture, and global consumption in the manner that we see happen to its own characters? Time will tell.


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