Held annually in the medieval castle of Olavinlinna, amid the spectacular lake scenery of Savonlinna and Lake Saimaa, the Savonlinna Opera Festival is one of the highlights of the Finnish cultural calendar every year. First held from 1912 until 1917, the festival returned from a fifty year hiatus in 1967, and has gone from strength to strength since, attracting over 71,000 visitors in 2015.
For the 2016 season the main theme of the Savonlinna Opera Festival will be Italian opera. Given that this year also marks the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare, it is no surprise that three operas based on the Bard’s works feature. In addition to its own productions, the Festival will be welcoming two Italian guests, the Teatro Regio Torino and the Ravenna Festival conducted by maestro Riccardo Muti. Accompanying this feast of Italian opera will be productions of Leoš Janáček’s masterwork From the House of the Dead, and Mozart’s Don Giovanni. And as always, there’s even opera for the kids in the form of Little Red Cap!
Other concerts that form a part of the month long festival include the afternoon performance of the winners of the Mustakallion Competition, in Savonlinna Hall. The same venue will also host a Lieder recital by Jorma Hynninen and Ralf Gothóni (both former Artistic Directors of the Festival). There will also be a special concert of Franz Schubert‘s Mass in A-flat Major on Sunday July 24th at 15:00. This concert will be held in Kerimäki Church, the largest wooden church in the world! John Storgårds will conduct the Savonlinna Opera Festival Choir and the Chamber Orchestra of Lapland, with the soloists Kateryna Kasper, Niina Keitel, Tuomas Katajala and Tuomas Pursio.
The festival gets underway with Verdi’s Otello on July 8th at 19:00 in Olavinlinna. “Valiant Otello, a soldier and a Moor, returns, a celebrated hero, to the island where he has made his home. But, unknown to him, an enemy lurks there. The scheming Iago manages to make Otello succumb to jealousy. In blind range he kills his beloved, only to discover that he has been a victim of his own delusions. ”
The latest production promises to show the great composer’s opera to be his most diverse in terms of its music and libretto. There are five more performances, on the 12th, 19th, 21st, 27th, and 29th of July, all conducted by Xian Zhang.
Based on the exploits of legendary libertine and serial seducer Don Juan, Mozart’s Don Giovanni is considered to be one of the great classical works of art.
“Don Giovanni is a carefree hunter of women, who brags about his conquests. But things get unpleasant when he kills Donna Anna’s father in a duel. The family swears revenge. Don Giovanni lives it up in a graveyard, which results in a holy reprimand. Don Giovanni replies by inviting the statue of Donna Anna’s father to dinner. The stone guest urges him to repent, but Don Giovanni refuses and the ground swallows him up. ”
The premiere is on July 9th at 19:00 in Olavinlinna, with another four performances on the 18th, 20th, 22nd, and 25th of July, conducted by John Storgårds.
There will be three performances of the opera for children Little Red-Cap (Červena Karkulká), the first taking place on Monday the 11th at 18:00 in Savonlinna Hall. Produced by the South Savo Music, Theatre and Opera Association, ESMO, Little Red-Cap is a musical fairytale that ties up two tales featuring the Big Bad Wolf, in the middle of a colourful forest. There are two more performances, on the 12th and on the 18th, both at the earlier time of 15:00.
Verdi’s Falstaff is the first of two Ravenna Festival Shakespeare productions that will be performed at this year’s Savonlinna Opera Festival; it also the first time that the final work of Verdi’s career will be performed here. There are just two performances on the 13th and 15th of July at 19:00 in Olavinlinna. If ever the great castle was the perfect fit for an opera, then surely it is Verdi’s Macbeth? Once again, this is a Ravenna Festival production, and once again there are just two performances – on the 14th and 16th at 19:00. The Ravenna Festival features DanzActori Ensemble di Ravenna Festival, Orchestra Giovanile Luigi Cherubini, Coro del Teatro Municipale di Piacenza with chorus master Corrado Casati, conducted by Nicola Paszkowski.
Ravenna Festival will make one extra appearance in Olavinlinna, on Sunday 17th at 19:00, when Riccardo Muti, one of the most legendary conductors in the world today, is to conduct the Giovanile Luigi Cherubini Orchestra in the closing concert of their visit.
The second independent production is the Welsh National Opera‘s production of the House of the Dead by Czech composer Leoš Janáček. Based on Dostoyevsky’s prison camp experiences, this is definitely one of the most fascinating works of this year’s festival. It premieres on the 23rd, with three more performances on the 26th, 28th, and 30th of July at 19:00. The Savonlinna Opera Festival Orchestra and Savonlinna Opera Festival Choir will be conducted by Tomáš Hanus.
Love Records is to give a gala concert in Olavinlinna Castle to celebrate its first half century at 19:00 on Sunday July 24th. In addition to Love Records hits by the label’s own soloists, the programme will include music by Mikko Alatalo, Blues Section, Hector, Kaseva, Pelle Miljoona, Tuomari Nurmio, Rauli Badding Somerjoki, Pekka Streng, Tasavallan Presidentti and Wigwam. Accompanying the soloists – Maarit, Aija Puurtinen, Tuure Kilpeläinen, Dave Lindholm, Pelle Miljoona, Pepe Willberg and Jukka Gustavson– will be the six-man Rakkaus/Love Orchestra conducted By Lasse Sakara.
Teatro Regio Torino will premiere the masterpiece La Bohème on the 2nd of August, with two more performances, on the 4th and 6th. This massively popular opera had its first performance in Turin in 1896 under the baton of Arturo Toscanini, so its highly appropriate that its first performance at Savonlinna is by Italians. Their second production is that of Norma, one of the finest operas in the bel canto tradition, with the leading role of Norma considered to be one of the hardest and most highly respected soprano roles. There are just two performances, on the 3rd and 5th of August at 19:00 in Olavinlinna. Gianandrea Noseda conducts the Orchestra and chorus of Teatro Regio Torino.
You can get all the details for each performance at the official Savonlinna Opera Festival 2016 site. Discovering Finland thanks the Festival site for the use of their photos – all images in this post have been sourced from their media bank.