Olavinlinna Castle © Itä-Savo, Timo Seppäläinen
Olavinlinna Castle
© Itä-Savo, Timo Seppäläinen
The magnificent Olavinlinna Castle, built in 1475 on an island connecting two lakes in the Finnish city of Savonlinna, is an opera venue unlike any other. Taking place in the courtyard, covered over and with excellent acoustics, the operas hosted at the festival each summer are renowned the world over not just for their quality, but also for this remarkable setting. The jewel in the crown of Finland’s impressive classical music festival scene, Savonlinna Opera Festival is something of a pilgrimage for serious opera fans.

With new artistic director Jorma Silvasti at the helm, the season consists of six operas, plus several concerts. Savonlinna itself presents four opera productions: The Magic Flute, Carmen, Madama Butterfly, and the most intriguing proposition, Aulis Sallinen’s Kullervo (1998). Based on the Finnish national epic known as the Kalevala – the same work that Sibelius’ suite Kullervo is based on – this sinister tale of revenge and incest comes vividly to life in Sallinen’s adaptation. An authentically Finnish affair, this production is conducted by Hannu Lintu and directed by Kari Heiskanen, and stars the baritone Tommi Hakala, winner of the BBC Singer of the World Competition in 2003.

In an unusual but exciting innovation this year, Savonlinna is welcoming metal group Amorphis for a concert in July. These veterans of the Finnish metal scene are linked to Sallinen’s opera by their shared affection for the Kalevala – it has directly influenced a number of their albums.

Carmina Burana at the festival in 2003 © Värsuomi - Matti Kolho
Carmina Burana at the festival in 2003
© Värsuomi - Matti Kolho
More conventionally minded opera fans need not fear, however, with many more traditional shows at the festival as well. Madama Butterfly brings back a highly successful 2009 production by director Henry Akina. It’s double-cast, and while both line-ups look strong, international visitors might want to hear one of the two dates with soprano Helena Juntunen starring as Butterfly alongside rising tenor Giorgio Berrugi. Savonlinna’s Carmen is a surefire crowd-pleaser too, with Nadja Krasteva and Katharine Goeldner sharing the title role. Their colourful production of The Magic Flute is back as well – you can get a flavour of it in the video clip below.

As is traditional at the festival, the fourth and final week is given over to a visiting company – this year, the resurgent Welsh National Opera will be taking two of their new productions, Nabucco and Manon Lescaut (the latter making its Savonlinna debut). The grandeur of Nabucco’s famous finale should ensure a stylish final week to the festival, with young, adventurous director Rudolf Frey bound to make his presence felt as well.

Olavinlinna © Värisuomi - Matti kolho
Olavinlinna
© Värisuomi - Matti kolho
A trip to the Savonlinna Opera Festival is more than the opera, however, with such a beautiful local area to explore as well. The festival will lend a hand in organising extra activities – there’s an online shop on their site for extra services. You can even book a cruise through the islands that will take you straight to the castle, just in time for the opera.

We have more information on the Savonlinna Opera Festival at Bachtrack, and you can visit the festival’s own site here.

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This article is sponsored by the Savonlinna Opera Festival.