The initial idea for the Savonlinna Opera Festival came from Finnish opera diva and ardent patriot, Aino Ackte, in 1907, the year Finland democratically elected its first Parliament by universal suffrage. While attending a political meeting in the castle, Ackte saw the possibility of staging an opera festival in this very romantic setting.
The first opera festival was staged in 1912 and grew in renown until the First World War and ensuing economic difficulties put the festival on hold for nearly four decades. Ardent supporters, after years of planning, staged a televised production of "Fidelio" in 1967 that put Savonlinna back on the operatic map.
From its early beginnings as a one-week festival, Savonlinna has grown into a month-long international festival that draws an audience of 60,000 yearly. On an artistic par with many of Europe’s best music festivals, Savonlinna presented six operas, a children’s opera and Verdi’s "Requiem" for the 2013 season.
While I relished the experience of being able to sit through a staging of Verdi’s "Macbeth," aptly performed in an old castle, (how mood evocative can you get?), I also marveled at the superb artistry achieved by the production staff, the orchestra, soloists and chorus. Even more to my amazement is the fact that the small town of some 27,500 residents is able to accommodate the phalanx of musicians, technicians and singers, not to mention the audience.
Initially, I questioned how well the acoustics might fare in a stone castle with rock-hard walls, but I was amazed by the superb sound starting with the overture to "La Traviata," the first in my series of Savonlinna operas. Because 2013 is the 200th anniversary of the birth of both Giuseppi Verdi and Richard Wagner, Savonlinna decided to stage Verdi’s "Masked Ball," "Macbeth," and "La Traviata" as well as his "Requiem" and Wagner’s "Lohengrin," the final opera of the three I was able to see on three consecutive evenings.