TALLINN - Pirita Kloostri, an ancient church that sits on the bend of a river not far from central Tallinn, has now deteriorated to a stone shell. Its foundations peek through the grass like fossils.
These dramatic ruins will this week play host to an equally dramatic musical event, the Birgitta Festival, which is trying to position itself as the city's premier cultural event.
The festival carries a heavy focus on dramatic opera and pledges to present strikingly-lit and well-staged productions of the great operas.
It begins on Aug. 11, with a performance of the Argentine opera "Maria de Buenos Aires," also known as the "tango opera."
The performance is a co-production with the Estonian Puppet Theater. The singers will share the stage with life-size puppets and shadow theater. English and Estonian viewers will be able to follow the story with subtitles.
The opera's lead male singer, Puerto Rican Daniel Bonilla-Torres, says European audiences can learn a lot from tango music.
"It is the intimacy of this music, underlined and punctuated by its never-ending sensual rhythm and cadences, that appeals to the introverted and self-contained European character," Bonilla-Torres says.
"Personally, I like its unstoppable energy from the first bars of music, through to the slowest tempo, right to the last requiem-like scene," he says. "After the last chord one is still hearing the piece in its totality. With its music, perhaps the Europeans can escape the daily deadly life routine and better enjoy their present lives, peppered with a little bit of nostalgia and a little bit of an exciting future."
The surrealistic opera, written by Astor Piazzolla in 1968, tells the story of Maria, a young woman who is enchanted by tango and becomes a prostitute. Maria personifies the city of Buenos Aires "in all its splendor and decay, its euphoric high spirits and wistful melancholy."
Bonilla-Torres, who has performed the same role in previous productions, says the story would help European audiences understand the struggles of women in Latin America, with its Catholic and male-dominated social structures.
"But also, it may bring some understanding of the sadness and melancholy state of mind of the people of that corner of the world, and their need to express themselves through the text and music of the tango about almost everything in their daily life that affects them emotionally and physically," he says. "It is almost like hearing an endless requiem to their lives."
The dramatic theme of the opera festival continues on Aug. 15, with a performance of "La Clemenza di Tito."
The opera, set to music by Mozart, is a classic story of love, murder and betrayal in ancient Rome.
But the most dramatic production of the festival will be "The Lady MacBeth of the Mtensk District," a tale of lust, rape and power that the organizers have deemed not suitable for children.
Presented by the Russian opera company Helikon, the four-hour opera follows the story of Katerina, a young wife whose betrayal leads to murder and other grisly deeds.
The opera's director, Dmitri Bertman, said the performance was meant to be challenging.
"We wanted to make this production the birth of a human soul, in a state of extreme passion and love of a person's psyche," Bertman says.
The Birgitta Festival will also feature a free open day for families on Aug. 15 from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., with singing ensembles, circus, workshops, and an evening concert by the popular Estonian jazz singer Helin-Mari Arder. o
Aug. 11 - 20
Tickets 250 kroons (16 euros) per performance
More info: www.birgitta.ee