Vytautas Viržonis (1930 08 25 Vabalninkas, Biržai district – 2010 06 15 Vilnius) – one of the leading Lithuanian opera conductors of his generation, a professor at the Lithuanian Academy of Music and Theatre where he had educated several generations of opera singers.
Vytautas Viržonis was born on August 25, 1930 in Vabalninkas. He received his music basics from his father organist and choir conductor Jonas Viržonis, a disciple of J. Gruodis and J. Naujalis. While still a pupil at the Krakiai gymnasium Vytautas sang in choir together with his sisters, participated in operetta productions directed by his father. Vytautas was skilled accordionist and pianist, tried his hand in composing and acted in theatre productions.
In 1948, he entered Kaunas Conservatoire to study the organ, a year later switched to piano under St. Vainiūnas. At that time he did not think about the life as a conductor. In 1949, together with Kaunas Conservatoire he moved to Vilnius. He combined his studies and accompanying work in the choral conducting course, where he got acquainted with specifics of vocal art as well as various teaching methods.
In 1953, invited by conductor Rimas Geniušas he started working as an accompanist and assistant to conductor at the Lithuanian State Opera and Ballet Theatre – worked with the orchestra and different orchestral groups in rehearsals, and also backstage.
Assisted by theatre conductors he honed his conducting skills. In 1956, he started his independent conducting career, made debut as a conductor with one-act ballet Šopeniana (to Chopin’s music). In 1959, he led his fist premiere – a one-act children’s opera Little Red Riding Hood by V. Gokyel. In 1961, he studied under A. Melik-Pashaev, the principal conductor at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow. The same year Viržonis got the conducting position at the Opera and Ballet Theatre. In 1989–1991, he also served as the artistic director of Kaunas Musical Theatre.
Viržonis worked at the Opera Theatre for almost 60 years – premiered 47 operas and 10 ballets; his repertoire included more than 60 operas and 15 ballets. He closely collaborated with stage director J. Grybauskas. The tandem put on productions of Les contes d’Hoffmann by Offenbach, Eugene Onegin by Tchaikovsky, Der Zigeunerbaron by J. Strauss and Mozart and Salieri by Rimsky-Korsakov. For the latter production the Theatre Society awarded Viržonis the Stanislavsky Prize. He premiered five Lithuanian operas including the award-winning Saulės miestas (The City of the Sun) by A. Račiūnas and Kryžkelėje (At the Crossroad) by V. Paltanavičius. In 1990, Viržonis led the world premiere of Catharsis, a ballet by Swiss composer A. Pflüger. In 1991, together with Lithuanian conductor A. Vasaitis he staged Ponchielli’s opera I Lituani in the Lithuanian Opera of Chicago and in Vilnius Theatre.
Viržonis stood at the podium in almost all tours of the Theatre: in Moscow, Warsaw, Weimar, Riga, Tallinn, Kazan, Kishinev, Yerevan, Bulgaria, Germany, Chicago, Finland, Belgium and Switzerland, Heilbronn Opera Theatre and Savonlinna Opera Festival (1993), also opera theatres in the Netherlands and Taiwan (2000). He led the music productions in European theatres including “Estonia” (1972), the Latvian National Opera (1977, 1984, 1986, 1987, 1999), Ruse State Opera (Bulgaria, 1977), Erfurt Opera Theatre (1978, 1981), the Armenian Opera and Ballet Theatre (1986).
Since 1962, Viržonis had served as a professor at the Lithuanian Academy of Music (LAM). He led the Opera Studio of the LMA where he guided into opera world about 100 students (almost all singers that are active today), supervised preparation of the roles for their graduation. Since 2003, he also had worked at the Opera Studio of the Lithuanian National Opera and Ballet Theatre.
Viržonis was a manifold musical figure. The conductor is credited for instilling the best Lithuanian Opera traditions, which determined the high artistic calibre of the Theatre and made its name in the world. Professionalism, erudition, thrift but eloquent conducting manner – these are the qualities lauded by opera connoisseurs and admirers of Viržonis. In 1995, Viržonis formed the Opera and Ballet Theatre Chamber Orchestra with which he toured in Switzerland three times (Basel, Zurich, etc.) and also in Germany (Nuremberg, Stuttgart, etc.); recorded a CD in Switzerland. The other CD featuring music by Swiss composers was recorded in Vilnius. He also conducted film soundtracks – A. Belazaras’ music for Kalakutai (Turkeys) and E. Balsys’ music for Adomas nori būti žmogumi (Adomas Wants to be a Man). He made recordings for the Lithuanian Radio. Viržonis was also widely admired as a narrator. He often hosted various events such as meetings with opera world personalities. The theatre was Maestro’s way of life demanding all of his time and attention, which he donated without reluctance.
In 1964, Viržonis was honoured with the title of the Distinguished Artist of the LSSR.
In 2001, Viržonis was decorated with the 5th Class Order of the Lithuanian Grand Duke Gediminas.
Viržonis died on June 15, 2010 in Vilnius. Buried in Antakalnis Cemetery in Vilnius.
Witten by Aldona Juodelienė
"The Sicillian vespers"
"La fanciulla del West"
"Lucia di Lammermoor"
"The Barber of Seville"
"The Flying Dutchman"
"Bastien und Bastienne"
"Romeo nd Juliet"
"La Belle Helene"
"The Tales of Hoffmann"
"The Gypsy Baron"
"The Bartered Bride"
"Mozart and Salieri"
"Into the Storm"
"Saulės miestas" / "The City of the Sun"
"Duktė" / "The Daughter"
"Marių paukštė" / "Bird of the Sea"
"Liepsna" / "Flame"
"The Blue Danube"
"The Sleeping Beauty"
"Romeo and Juliet"