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The theatre constitutes an important part of cultural life, and currently perhaps, represents Lithuania abroad more than the other arts.
Since the 16th century, theatre performances were held at the Rulers' Palace of the Lower Castle. Plays were also performed in the estates of the nobility and in the city streets and squares. As elsewhere in Europe, neither high culture nor the carnival-type folk culture managed to get along without the theatre.
During the first half of the 19th century, S. Moniuszko, a famous Polish composer and musician, resided and composed in Vilnius. His famous Opera, Halka, was performed in the city in 1848.
However, real, popular theatre, necessary for the rebirth of the Lithuanian nation, appeared only at the end of the 19th century. The first Lithuanian language performance of a play took place in 1899, at the Palanga seaside, where the ban on Lithuanian publications and cultural events did not apply. This was a performance of Amerika Pirtyje (America at the Bathhouse). During 1905-14, there were already 24 travelling performer troupes active in Lithuania, who held performances at 200 locations.
After Kaunas became the provisional capital in 1920, the principal professional theatres, youth studios and theatrical institutions were concentrated there. The state drama and musical theatres presented their own national and European classics on their stages. Historical Lithuanian drama came into existence at the same time, and its tradition continued unbroken during the years of Soviet occupation.
The Kaunas State Theatre stage had been the site of performances by several famous performers, such as Fyodor Shalyapin, or directors such as Mikhail Chekhov. Romualdas Juknevicius, a famous Lithuanian drama director, also reached maturity during that period.
During the interim period, the talent of the tenor Kipras Petrauskas, whose career began in St. Petersburg prior to World War I, flourished in Lithuania.
Following World War II, Vilnius became the centre of theatrical life.
There are currently 11 state-sponsored theatre companies in Lithuania, and in addition to these, there is a number of theatre companies either sponsored by municipal governments or working on a commercial basis. The large cities house 7 state-sponsored drama theatres. Four cities, Vilnius, Kaunas, Klaipeda and Panevezys, have their own musical theatres. The Vilnius Opera Theatre presents vocal performances by Virgilijus Noreika, Vaclovas Daunoras and Vladimiras Prudnikovas and dancing by Egle Spokaite. World-famous stars such as, M. Plisetskaya, J. Franz, G. Vishnevskaya, M. Rostropovich, Y. Menuhin and others have given performances there.
The Vilnius Youth Theatre has brought recognition to one of the most distinguished directors, Eimuntas Nekrosius.
For several years in succession Vilnius has been the capital city of the International Theatre Festival, LIFE, held each May.
"Aida," by Verdi, at the Lithuanian Opera and Ballet Theatre (scenography by L. Truikys).
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