TALLINN - The unique festival of music and theater “Birgitta Festival” first appeared in a fascinating place in the Estonian capital Tallinn, the ruins of the historical Pirita (St. Bridget’s) convent. This was in the late summer of 2005. The Birgitta Festival is aspiring to become the symbolic festival of Tallinn, as well as a major event of the Baltic States as well as in the wider cultural world.
The 2014 festival celebrates two anniversaries – EriKlas 75 and Birgitta Festival 10. Birgitta Festival’s identity lies with high quality musical theater. Not just staging famous and popular operas, but showing the different genres of musical theater. This year the program includes staged oratorio, comic opera, grand dramatic opera, ballet and staged gala concert. The guest performers hail from America, Western Europe, Russia and Latvia.
Birgitta is Tallinn’s signature festival, much like the Festivities Week (Juhlaviikot) is in Helsinki or the Water Festival in Stockholm.
It combines the dark charm of the medieval Pirita convent in Tallinn, with the latest in modern musical theater in all its variety and richness.
Opening night, Aug. 8, features Mass by the famous American musical composer Leonard Bernstein. A work which merited a warning by the FBI to the White House and the Church banning the performance, written in the memory of John F. Kennedy. Mass was commissioned by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis for the opening of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and is dedicated to President Kennedy, who was assassinated 50 years ago in November 1963.
For the first time the St. Petersburg troupe will be introduced at the festival. According to leading critics, the Jacobson Ballet Theater is currently one of the most professional, developing and interesting ballet troupes in Russia.
“Spartacus or Scenes of Roman Life,” which will be presented to the public on Aug. 10, is a modernized performance based on the choreography of the theater’s legendary director Jacobson. It is an enhanced version of the “Spartacus” that premiered in 1956 in Leningrad’s Kirov (Mariinsky) Theater. The current production is gripping and spectacular – the breath-taking fight scenes are almost movie-like.
The performance is very fast-paced – scenes alternate with kaleidoscopic speed. Gladiatorial combat, the parties and orgies of the Roman elite, the feasts of the plebeians and finally the slave revolt. These scenes blend into the scenic-theatrical whole, which reflects the overwhelmingly luxurious ancient Roman life before the empire’s impending doom.
On Aug. 14, Mozart’s comic opera from the heart of Europe comes to the festival stage – Swiss Opera cooperation with the Liechtenstein director Georg Rootering.
“Mozart is sexy – two couples, two rivals, 6 romances and a happy end. Mozart is fast, funny, charming, subtle, comprehensible and as good as ever,” saysRootering. “Relationships, humor and wine are the components, which Mozart’s playful dialogues are based on. The audience is charmed by the characteristically beautiful music and fast-paced rhythms.”
The second half of the festival comes from Helikon-opera. This avant-garde Moscow opera theater was Birgitta Festival’s first guest theater in 2005.
Helikon’s “A Masked Ball” on Aug. 15 is a tale of the intrigue surrounding a contemporary head of state – images of the rulers and public figures of our time are worn as masks at the fatally-ending ball. This is no modern exaggeration, but a concept deriving from the opera’s original version.
“A Masked Ball” is really the story of the assassination of King Gustav III of Sweden at a ball in an opera theater. Since this might have led to a popular uprising, the plot was forbidden in the 19th century (in Russia also, since Gustav was a relative of Catherine) and Gustav’s name was substituted for Count Riccardo.
The festival will conclude on Aug. 16 - 17 by the gala evenings of maestro EriKlas, the artistic director of the festival.