Opera distracts Latvians from real life drama

Thu Jun 11, 2009 10:42am EDT
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By Laura MacInnis

RIGA (Reuters Life!) - Latvia's opera would seem a natural victim of economic crisis.

Instead, its performances are packed as they offer a respite from the real life drama of the Baltic country's worst economic crisis since the fall of the Soviet Union.

Though the economy is set to drop 20 percent this year, the annual opera festival has sold about 90 percent of its tickets. On other nights too the house is also usually quite full.

Though not a local, Swedish tourist Kerstin Johansson, 56, thinks she knows the reason. "When there is a crisis like this one here, people need a distraction," she said.

Students, pensioners, tourists and music lovers delighted at this week's hedonistic rendition of Mozart's "Don Giovanni," set aboard a cruise ship where bedazzled singers danced around deck chairs and proclaimed: "May heaven protect the zealousness of my heart!" and "Let the world fall apart, I feel nothing!"

Standing among champagne-quaffing aficionados during the sold out show's intermission, Johansson said she was "not necessarily surprised" to see such exuberance on the sidelines of an economic bust that has raised fears of a devaluation of the EU country's currency.

Three young Latvians in the standing section of the ornate 1,000-seat opera house said during the break that they understood why high culture keeps its appeal in difficult times.

"I think the Latvian people love art," said Annija Bicule, 17, whose music school was offering free tickets to the show.   Continued...