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How to make the most of your visit to the Savonlinna Opera Festival

First things first: which opera? You’ll find the programme for 2020 easily at here. The number of great classics on offer is unusually large. Any one of them is a safe choice, for they have been thrilling audiences for generations. Time picks out the classics. Don’t be misled into thinking that it’s pointless going to an opera you’ve already seen. For the enjoyment will not suffer because you already know the plot, or vice versa. Directions and performances differ, and make even a familiar work a new experience.

Read up beforehand

Once you’ve chosen your opera and booked your tickets, read up about the opera. You’ll find loads of info about individual works on the internet, along with musical excerpts, and sometimes the whole opera. You will find relevant information in the internet and libraries for free.

For those of you who want to study the opera more closely, the Opera Festival publishes librettos and handbooks of all the season’s operas. In addition to the text (in the language in which the opera is to be performed and Finnish), there is a short article about the opera and a synopsis in Finnish and English. Librettos are sold at the Opera Festival’s box office and at the Castle on the night of the performance.

Dress code: practical

The dress code for the Savonlinna Opera Festival is: practical. This means keep an eye on the weather forecast and dress accordingly. Women should be aware that the stone Castle floors are uneven and difficult to manage in high heels.

The auditorium itself is covered and protected from the rain, but if the weather forecast promises rain, bring rainwear for the walk to and from the castle. Summer evenings in Finland are often cool, even if the day has been very warm, so bring something warm to wear. Having said that, the opposite has been the case in recent years, and the auditorium has sometimes been positively hot, so it’s best to dress in layers and bring a bottle of water. If the occasion requires that you and your party dress more smartly, it’s a good idea to wear something warm underneath your suit or dress.

Book your interval refreshments in advance

Olavinlinna Castle can seat an audience of over 2,200. Performances are often sold out, so refreshment queues are inevitable in the intervals. Book in advance for one of the four refreshment points: immediately after the Watergate, the Linnantupa hall, the thick bastion to the right of the stage and the terrace on the castle walls. Booking is easy by email.

The early bird…

The Opera Festival is a big effort for a town the size of Savonlinna. The accommodation, at least in the centre of town, is fully booked long in advance. If you want somewhere to stay within walking distance of Olavinlinna Castle, you therefore need to book as soon as possible after New Year.

Savonlinna is easily accessible by public transport, and this is well worth considering, especially if you don’t need your car once you’re in town. Travelling by bus often means changing in Mikkeli, and by rail to a local train at Parikkala.

There are various hotels within walking distance of Olavinlinna Castle. The most traditional ones are the Best Western Spahotel Casino, the Original Sokos Hotel Seurahuone, the Hospitz Family Hotel and the Pietari Kylliäinen. Also within walking distance are four summer hotels: the Tott, Vuorilinna, Opera and Villa Aria.

Excellent accommodation is also available in the Savonlinna region, such as the Järvisydän Hotel at Rantasalmi and the Kruunupuisto Hotel & Hotel Punkaharju at Punkaharju. Transport to the opera is arranged from these if required.

Find out all of our accommodation recommendations here.

Leave time for culinary delights

Savonlinna in summer abounds in culinary delights. While it’s not always necessary to reserve in advance, booking is advisable if you want to be sure of a table.

Olavinlinna Castle has a restaurant, the Linnantupa, steeped in atmosphere. As the number of seats is very limited, be sure to book in advance. Very close to the Castle are the Linnakrouvi, Valo and Hospitz Hotel restaurants, and a little further away the Waahto, the Majakka, and the Huvila Brewery Restaurant. Again, these restaurants are so popular that booking is recommended.

If you want to enjoy the opera to the full, a heavy meal just beforehand is not a good idea. A late lunch is best, because that then leaves you time for a walk, a cruise or a siesta. And the pre-opera talk.

One place you absolutely must visit in Savonlinna in the summer is the busy market, with its numerous handicraft and food stalls. It is also the place to try a traditional Savonlinna lörtsy, a sort of bun with a sweet or savoury filling.

Right beside the market is the Savonlinna Seurahuone Hotel, where you can eat fried vendace (a small lake fish) on its roof terrace.

Pit stops on the way to the Opera Festival

Butiken på Landet at Wehmaa Manor in Juva sells quality men’s and women’s fashion from European fashion houses. Adjoining it is the TeaHouse of Wehmais, the only tea house in Finland specialising in the English tea tradition and winner of the tea house of the year award in 2015. It serves tea in the English manner and sells a selection of about 100 loose teas.

Cruise on Lake Saimaa

Savonlinna lies at the heart of the Saimaa waterway, so be sure to leave time for a cruise in connection with your visit to the opera. There are all sorts of cruises to choose from at Savonlinna Passenger Harbour, from short spins to trips lasting several hours, and lunch cruises.

A peep backstage

If you’re spending the night in Savonlinna, don’t be in a hurry to leave the next morning. After breakfast, take a little walk to the opening of the Opera Festival day at 10.00 on the Waahto terrace near the Harbour. At this session, Aarno Cronvall is joined by interesting guests such as artists appearing at the Festival, and they often give a short performance. The morning session lasts a good half-hour or so.

During the Festival season there are a number of art exhibitions well worth visiting in and around Savonlinna, such as the Finnish Forest Museum at Punkaharju.

Three times a week during the Opera Festival visitors can join a tour of Olavinlinna Castle including the backstage regions. Though the Castle is a unique setting for opera, it cannot boast the same facilities for the artists as a dedicated opera house. Creating the backstage premises in Olavinlinna Castle has called for ingenuity to overcome the obstacles, because the Castle built at the end of the 15th century was not originally designed for the performance of opera! It was designed for soldiers, and its job was to safeguard the border between Sweden and Russia. It has nevertheless become one of the world’s most interesting and most prestigious opera arenas.

Handy package tours

Many international tour operators run package tours to the Savonlinna Opera Festival.