Onutė Narbutaitė



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an opera in 2 acts, sung in Lithuanian, German, French and Italian

Libretto by Onutė Narbutaitė
Music Director and Conductor Robertas Šervenikas
Conductor Julius Geniušas
Director Gintaras Varnas
Set Designer Medilė Šiaulytytė
Costume and Make-Up Designer Juozas Statkevičius
Light Designer Levas Kleinas
Video Designer Rimas Sakalauskas
Choreographer Elita Bukovska (Latvia)
Chorus Master Česlovas Radžiūnas

Premiere: 21 February, 2014


This opera is a free improvisation on the subject of Rainer Maria Rilke’s "Die Weise von Liebe und Tod des Cornets Christoph Rilke" (eng. "The Lay of the Love and Death of Cornet Christopher Rilke"). In the chronicles of the 17th century there exists a message about a young man Rilke von Langenau who served as a cornet in the imperial Austrian Heistersch regiment of baron von Pirovan and didn’t return from the war with Turks; this little fragment turned into a source of inspiration to one of the greatest European poets, who in the junction of the 19-20th century transformed Rilke von Langenau’s story, in his own words, into a poetic “flight in one breath”. Now, in the 21st century, this opera-improvisation is speaking of the universality of that story, as if trying to state that human yearning – for love or transcendence – always remains the same, no matter the circumstances.  

In the libretto one can find fragments from Rilke’s works of literature and letters, there are also bits from "Die Weise von Liebe und Tod des Cornets Christoph Rilke" (Lithuanian translation by Henrikas Nagys, done in 1943). This reading of the Cornet’s story is further embellished by quotes takes from the writings of other authors, such as Homer, Johann Wolfgang Goethe, Charles Baudelaire, Oscar Milosz, Georg Trakl, Paul Celan, Jacques Prévert and Oskar Kokoschka, to whom Rilke’s publisher wanted to commission illustrations for Cornet. Through such use of quotes new subtexts and associations are born, introducing associative documentary aspects that accompany the literary prototype, and Cornet Christoph Rilke, wandering on the roads of war and tormented by painful yearning, turns into a generalized image of a Poet that connects all lands and times. 

R. M. Rilke’s poetic storyline is reflected in the opera, however, it serves more as a pretext, starting point and inspiration to a personal vision.

Onutė Narbutaitė


Act I – The Road

Cornet – junker Christoph Rilke von Langenau is traveling down the road of war, accompanied by riders and tormented by nostalgia. He is trying to escape the monotonous, eerie reality with the help of his dreams that echo teenage insecurities, yearning for love and the premonition of death. The young man finds solace and a friend in Frenchman Marquis, however, the war separates them. As a farewell gift, Marquis gives Christoph a tiny rose petal that was once bestowed upon him by his fiancée. Von Langenau is saddened: “I shall be guarded by another man’s woman”. Finally the General appoints him as the Cornet – Flagman. “This means a lot”, thinks Cornet to himself. He is riding alone. The plain horizon. Evening. The bindings of the saddle are tenderly flickering through the dust. Then the moon rises. He sees its light on his hands. He is dreaming.” Christoph’s slumber is interrupted by a sudden scream – it is a young girl calling out for help; in her Cornet recognizes the face of a Dream Maiden that constantly returns to his dreams. Cornet is shocked and overwhelmed by the closeness of death. The enemy is close.

Act 2 – The Tower

The riders arrive at a castle. Rest! “To not always be a soldier. For once, let the winds play again in the hair, let them caress the naked bosom, and you can sit on silky chairs and feel as if you’ve bathed in cool water. And to begin remembering once again, what a Woman is.”  During the feast Cornet meets the Countess. His ardent yearning for the feeling of true love is finally satisfied. “The softly murmuring hours are rushing into the dream of night from the darkest of wines and thousands of roses”. In the remote chamber of the tower “there is nothing that could do any harm; there is no yesterday, there is no tomorrow”. However, the intoxicating night of love ends with death. The happy Cornet cannot hear the panic that’s boiling outside and is oblivious to the voices and trumpets that are calling him. He is awakened by the sound of the Dream Maiden’s voice. As soon as he escapes from the burning castle, the Cornet is surrounded by enemies. And yet, “once again he can only see the gardens. And those sixteen sabers that are falling and falling, glittering with every slash, are only a feast. The streams of gushing water.”