The Savonlinna Opera Festival

by Lexa Pennington /
Lexa Pennington's picture
May 29, 2008 / 0 comments

Friends of mine in Finland have often told me about an incredible opera festival,  in Savonlinna. I recently had a chance to talk with Harri Pohjolainen, Communication Manager of the Savonlinna Opera Festival.  The Savonlinna Opera Festival will be held this year from July 4- August 2.

Savonlinna Opera Festival 



Here's what he had to say:

The Savonlinna Opera Festival is one of the Finnish cultural events best
known abroad and a major Finnish tourist attraction. A visit to the opera in
Savonlinna is an experience for all the senses – first-class opera and
concerts, the unique atmosphere of a medieval castle and the little town of
Savonlinna set amid beautiful lake scenery, at the height of summer.

Over the years the Savonlinna Opera Festival has grown into an international
festival lasting a month. It records a total audience figure of around
60,000, a good ten per cent from abroad. Savonlinna has become a byword
among opera lovers the world over.

The new Savonlinna Opera Festival production to be staged this year in
Olavinlinna Castle is Mefistofele by Arrigo Boito. The stage director is
Dieter Kaegi, the stage and costume designer William Orlandi. Conducting the performances in Olavinlinna Castle is the Festival’s new Artistic Director
Jari Hämäläinen, and singing the title role is the Festival’s Artist of the
Year Mika Kares. The Savonlinna Opera Festival has been premiering Finnish
operas since 1975. The 2008 season will see the world premiere in Savonlinna of the tenth new Finnish opera: the children’s opera The Seven Dog Brothers by Markus Fagerudd. Also making their comeback on the castle stage are three great Savonlinna favourites, Verdi’s Rigoletto and Aida and Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman.

The Savonlinna Opera Festival has been acting host to visiting opera houses
since 1987. The first was the Estonia Theatre from Tallinn in neighbouring
Estonia. The world-famous Mariinsky Theatre from St. Petersburg appeared at the Festival for three summers and was followed by, among others, the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden from London, Los Angeles Opera and the Gran Teatre del Liceu. The guest in summer 2007 was the Bolshoi Theatre from Moscow. The visiting opera house in the 2008 season is the Shanghai Opera House, bringing along an opera – Verdi’s Otello – never heard in Savonlinna before and The Wager, an opera by Wen Deqing not performed outside China since its premiere in Geneva in 2003. The programme for the forthcoming season also features a number of concerts, such as that by star tenor Roberto Alagna in Olavinlinna Castle on July 13.

The Savonlinna Opera Festival is nowadays one of the most illustrious
fixtures in the Finnish arts calendar, and an event of the greatest
international significance. The original founder of the Festival, soprano
Aino Ackté, was right when she reckoned that an opera performance of the
highest order in a romantic, medieval castle set amid lake scenery of
“supernatural beauty” would be a unique and thus unforgettable experience.

The town of Savonlinna is located in the middle of lakeland Finland, the
town itself is built on three islands so a large part of attractions for
visitors are related to water. There are a number of steam boats at the
Savonlinna harbour that make cruises in the region. for further information
on tourist attractions please visit

The birth of the Savonlinna Opera Festival ties in closely with the emerging Finnish identity and Finland’s striving for independence at the beginning of the 20th century. Attending a patriotic meeting in Olavinlinna Castle in 1907, the Finnish soprano Aino Ackté, already famous at opera houses the world over and an ardent patriot, immediately spotted the potential of the medieval castle built in 1475 as the venue for an opera festival. The romantic castle set amid lake scenery of ‘supernatural beauty’ could not, in her opinion, fail to impress all who beheld it and was thus the perfect stage for presenting the Finnish music just bursting into flower.

The first opera festival was held in 1912. Aino Ackté did as she had promised and turned the castle into a stronghold of operatic art. During the five summers she was able to arrange her festival, she staged four Finnish operas. The only opera by a non-Finnish composer was Gounod’s Faust, with Ackté herself excelling in the leading female role of Marguerite. Her magnificent plans were, however, soon dashed by the First World War, the Russian Revolution, Finland’s Civil War and the ensuing economic difficulties, but news of the festival had already reached opera lovers in other parts of the world.

It's a bit too early to tell anything precise about the year 2012, our 100th anniversary. A new Finnish opera has been ordered and its world premiere will be during the season 2012. We also have some plans about the visiting opera house, but the negotiations are still going on. All I can tell you is that it will be a major opera house.




WE:  Thank you, Harri! It seems like an extraordinary series of events.  I can't wait to go!

For more information on the Savonlinna Opera Festival, please see: