Premieres to herald the jubilee season
The Savonlinna Opera Festival is known beyond Finland’s borders for not only its high artistic standard but also for its numerous premieres of Finnish operas (11 during the period 1930-2008). It is precisely this feature that has helped to make the Festival a lasting favourite with the international critics. The tradition continues in the jubilee year, when there will be not one but two world premieres on the Olavinlinna Castle stage.
Kimmo Hakola, a front-line contemporary Finnish composer, has used an original libretto by Juha-Pekka Hotinen to create a tragic-comic opera buffa set in one of Europe’s most legendary opera houses: La Fenice in Venice and the second, devastating fire that destroyed it 15 years ago. The stage director of this opera named after the famous opera house is Vilppu Kiljunen, who already has two highly-acclaimed productions on the Castle stage to his name (Faust 1999 and The Horseman 2005). The production team for La Fenice also includes stage designer Kimmo Viskari, costume designer Piia Rinne and lighting designer Ilkka Paloniemi.
The other new opera has sought to fan an interest in opera in the Internet generation. Called Free Will, it is the first opera produced by the Opera by You community created via the Internet and has given over 400 contributors from 35 countries a chance to help make an opera. The numerous topics, musical ideas, dialogues and stage designs put forward by members of the community are now being crystallised in the hands of a team of professionals into a real opera. The work of the Opera by You community has been coordinated by a team of operatives consisting of librettist Iida Hämeen-Anttila, composer Markus Fagerudd, stage director Jere Erkkilä, stage and lighting designer Samuli Laine, costume designer Essi Palo, producer Jukka Pohjolainen and project manager Päivi Salmi.
The Savonlinna Opera Festival’s increasingly cosmopolitan dimension is evident in both premieres: Kimmo Hakola’s opera will be sung in Italian (libretto translation by Nicola Rainò), while Free Will, to a libretto in English, is per se the most cosmopolitan production in operatic history.
Popular favourites back on the programme
The programme for the jubilee season 2012 is an interesting mix of new and traditional, Finnish and international. Representing tradition are the three most legendary and most popular productions in the history of the Savonlinna Opera Festival: August Everding’s direction of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s The Magic Flute, Ilkka Bäckman’s vision of Richard Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman, and András Mikó’s rendering of Giuseppe Verdi’s Aida.
Savonlinna is, each summer, also a meeting place for our brightest opera stars and the new, rising generation, for whom the Opera Festival has often served as a springboard for both the Finnish National Opera and great opera ensembles abroad. Matti Salminen and Juha Uusitalo will be starring in The Flying Dutchman, and Jaakko Ryhänen will be an imposing, thundering Sarastro in The Magic Flute. Adding to the Magic Flute tradition next summer will also be Jussi Myllys, tenor and Arttu Kataja, baritone along with Marjukka Tepponen and Miina-Liisa Värelä, two sopranos who shot to fame after winning the Timo Mustakallio Competition.
Most of the soloists in the premiere of La Fenice will be Finns. Tuija Knihtilä and Tommi Hakala, already making a fine international career, will be joined on stage by Juha Kotilainen, Johann Tilli and Sirkka Lampimäki.
Cast in the leading roles in Aida are, in turn, some fine international singers: Viennese Kammersänger Johan Botha (tenor), Russian Anna Smirnova (mezzo-soprano), familiar to audiences in Milan, Berlin, Vienna and elsewhere, as Amneris, and Hungarian soprano Csilla Boross, to mention just three.
The conductors for this jubilee season are experienced old hands. In addition to Jari Hämäläinen, who will be wielding the baton for La Fenice, the podium in the Castle’s orchestra pit will be occupied by French Philippe Auguin, German Will Humburg and Italian Elio Boncompagni.
Vikings keep watch
In addition to its many premieres, the Savonlinna Opera Festival is known for acting host to international opera houses. From 1987 onwards the mighty walls of Olavinlinna Castle have witnessed fantastic performances by over 20 guest houses. That for the jubilee year comes from Oslo and is one of the most interesting opera companies in Europe. Inspired by the splendid new modern house to which it moved a couple of years ago, the Norwegian Opera & Ballet (Den Norske Opera & Ballett) is on a truly magnificent upward artistic curve. Paul Curran’s brilliant direction of Benjamin Britten’s Peter Grimes and the impressive Norwegian opera Den fjerde nattevakt (The fourth Watch of the
Night) by Gisle Kverndokk are fine proof of the present standard of Norway’s national opera. These two operas are a fitting culmination of the unusually rich and varied programme for Savonlinna’s jubilee year.
Competition, concerts and Fringe
The concert repertoire is likewise studded with some shining gems. The Festival begins on July 5 with an Anniversary Gala starring nearly 20 top soloists, the Savonlinna Opera Festival Orchestra and Choir. Opera directors from all over the world will be bringing greetings to this unique concert. Years of waiting will be rewarded on July 15 when Karita Mattila returns for a concert in Olavinlinna Castle. Adding a new touch to the Festival will be an “opera” concert by the Apocalyptica cellos.
Dozens of concerts, theatre and other performances, talks, exhibitions and events will now, for the first time, be part of a Fringe Festival held concurrently with the Opera Festival. The Fringe core will consist of local arts people together with performers from all over Finland. The repertoire is broad, stretching from the popular Finnish “Egg Man” as the Queen of the Night to the Harvest Dances Singspiel by Ilmari Hannikainen.
Promising plenty of international excitement will be the Savonlinna Opera Festival’s International Singing Competition now to be held for the second time and attracting the most talented young singers – the stars of the future – to Savonlinna in July. The members of the Jury are opera directors from all over the world. The first rounds will take place at the Savonlinna Hall on July 24-26 and the finals in the Castle on July 29.
Centenary also celebrated in many events outside the season
The spring Opera Concert will be held in Kuopio on March 2, Helsinki on March 4 and St. Petersburg on March 6. Opera lovers will thus be able to enjoy this now traditional concert not only in the fine acoustics of the Kuopio Music Centre but also, at last, in perfect acoustic surroundings at the new Helsinki Music Centre. The orchestra for the Kuopio and Helsinki concerts will be the Kuopio Symphony and in St. Petersburg that of the Mikhailovsky Theatre.
The concert conducted by Jari Hämäläinen will present delectable soundbites from the Festival’s 100-year history. Among the superb soloists from Finland and abroad will be Jaakko Ryhänen, Csilla Boross and star of the New York Metropolitan Aleksandrs Antonenko. Also occupying an especially important role in the concert this year will be the Savonlinna Opera Festival Choir, which will be singing at the Helsinki concert in its maximum 2012 line-up of 130 singers.
During the spring there will also be an interesting series of talks in the Mirror Room of the Hotel Kämp in Helsinki. These talks devoted to the history of the Savonlinna Opera Festival will be given by experts on Finnish opera and the Festival headed by Dr Pentti Savolainen. The topics are The Castle years of Aino Ackté , The Opera Festival revival and the Martti Talvela era, Opera Festival premieres 1930-2008 and the Opera Festival’s international partnerships.
Talks about the operas on the centenary programme will be held at the Kalhama & Piippo Gallery (address: Bulevardi 10, Helsinki) as follows: La Fenice, January 17; Free Will, February 14; Peter Grimes, March 13; Den fjerde nattevakt, April 24; and the all-time classics The Magic Flute, The Flying Dutchman and Aida, May 22.
General Director Jan Hultin
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Artistic Director Jari Hämäläinen
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The Savonlinna Opera Festival in brief
The Savonlinna Opera Festival is the Finnish cultural event best known internationally and a leading Finnish tourist attraction. Over the years it has grown into an international festival lasting one month. It attracts an annual total audience of around 60,000, a good 10 per cent from abroad. A visit to the opera in Savonlinna is an all-round experience made up of first-class opera performances and concerts, the unique atmosphere of a medieval castle and the beautiful town of Savonlinna in summer, set amid lakes and forests. Savonlinna has become a concept among opera-lovers the world over. The Festival gets c. 14% of its funding from the Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture and the Town of Savonlinna, nearly70% from ticket revenue and c. 10% from its partnership agreements.
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