Things I Didn’t Dare to Say, and It’s Too Late Now

Telephone booth opera

In 2010, Itaru Sasaki from Otsuchi, Japan, learned that his beloved cousin had cancer and only had three months to live. After his cousin’s death, Sasaki built an old telephone booth in his backyard so that he could communicate with the deceased every day and have his words carried away by the wind.

In 2011, a tsunami struck the Otsuchi area, killing ten percent of the city’s population. Gradually, people became aware of the telephone booth and started visiting Itaru Sasaki’s garden to call their lost loved ones.

From 1 March 2022, just one week after Russia started the war in Ukraine, an old telephone booth, identical to the wind phone that stood in Japan, was installed next to the Lithuanian National Opera and Ballet Theatre. People were invited to come and ‘call’ those to whom they didn’t have the chance to say what they wanted in time, and now it was too late. In over six months, the phone has been picked up about 4000 times. The audio recordings of all the authentic stories became the basis for the opera’s libretto.

The telephone booth opera Things I Didn’t Dare to Say, and It’s Too Late Now is a sensitive, subtle, bright and hopeful story about a grieving person. At the same time, it is a clear cut through the geographical territories opened up by grief, a journey towards encounter, reconciliation and the experience of the world as a whole.

The telephone booth opera is a poem to human transience. The stage is filled with subtle, human and sometimes witty images from the present and beyond: bodies and objects emerge and fade in the interplay of light and dark. Everything passes – people, time, places, objects, events.

Director and dramaturge Kamilė Gudmonaitė

My relationship with the work, or rather, with the recordings of the ‘calls’ made by strangers in the telephone booth, was constantly changing. With every phase of the lengthy creative process, I found a new perspective on what each person had said. Initially, it was as if I was an outsider listening to these deeply personal stories; now, I reimagine them by placing myself in the shoes of the callers or their recipients. This opera presented a significant challenge: how to convey the inner soundscape within each of us, how to translate the often delicate and subtle content of the calls – the sacred essence – onto the theatrical stage? Music and sound become an invisible conduit, a spreading energy, bearing witness to what we never dared to express and now find ourselves too late to voice.

Composer Dominykas Digimas

The scenography of this piece embodies an intermediary realm, resembling a mirror to the inner world – an encounter that evokes a connection to the beyond. The action takes place in a transitional space that highlights liminal conditions, where everyday life converges with the transient and the uncertain. The visual atmosphere of the work pays homage to life and death, intimacy and yearning.

Set designer and author of video projection concept Barbora Šulniūtė