Patriotic Lithuanians rise up in arms to vanquish foreign invaders–sound like a cold-war fantasy? It actually happened in the 1400s when the proud kingdom of Lithuania (which had once laid siege to Moscow) fought back against harassment from their western neighbors, the Teutonic knights. This chapter of Baltic history serves as the basis for a middle-period opera by Ponchielli, the equally prolific contemporary of Verdi and a transitional figure in 19th-century Italian opera (between the bel canto of Donizetti and the verismo of Puccini). I lituani was unveiled in 1874–two years before La gioconda, Ponchielli’s greatest triumph and the only work for which he’s now remembered. I lituani–a celebration of Italian nationalism disguised as Lithuanian–shows off his penchant for pageantry and pathos, and its vivid atmosphere and symphonic orchestration belie the fashionable judgment that he was a solid workman with a limited imagination. This Lithuanian Opera Company production, done in conjunction with the Opera and Ballet Theater of Lithuania, features tenor Virgilijus Noreika, soprano Irena Milkeviciute, and bass Jonas Vaznelis. Many of the colorful sets, costumes, and singers are from Vilnius, Lithuania. Tonight, 7:30 PM, Chodl Auditorium, Morton East High School, 2423 S. Austin, Cicero; 471-1424.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Jonas Kuprys.