Convent to host Birgitta festival

  • 2010-08-11
  • By Ella Karapetyan

TALLINN - The history of the St. Bridget’s Convent in Tallinn – the Pirita Convent – dates back to the 15th century. The idea to found a convent in Tallinn was initiated by some Tallinn merchants already in 1400. In early 15th century when Pirita convent was built, Tallinn (Reval) had started to benefit from its privileged situation as a monopolistic transit trade point between east and west. During that medieval building boom the Tallinn town wall was reconstructed and many new towers built.

Being built upon St. Bridget rules, the Pirita convent church was also a typical style of Tallinn. Its walls and pillars were smooth, without the vertical relief articulation so typical of French Gothic cathedrals and their countless followers.
The facade of the Pirita Convent church with a monumental triangular gable rising above the portal, with a height of about 35 metres, had landmark significance in local architectural history.
Despite most of the rules of St. Bridget order were followed during the construction, the main altar was located in the east and not in the west as is typical for Bridgettines. The reason for that change was the location of the convent – it would have been inappropriate to locate the visitor’s entrance on the bank of the river in the east instead of the west where the entrance is closer to the road.

According to the St. Bridget rules, the church had 13 altars, all named after the apostles – so each priest had its own altar and apostle. In addition there were also several other side altars like the St. Bridget altar.
Since the main activity of the Bridgettine nuns was praying which mainly meant singing, the sisters at Pirita convent can be called the first large women’s choir in Estonia. Their dedicated songs were performed seven times daily at one of region’s largest concert halls.

Birgitta Festival combines the dark charm of the medieval Pirita convent in Tallinn, Estonia with the latest in modern musical theater in all its variety and richness. This year’s festival promises to be even bigger.
The program is rich with different events such as “Orpheus and Eurydice” performed by the Tallinn Chamber Orchestra. This is one of the most remarkable and most famous baroque operas of all times, as well as one of the most well-known love stories in the world.

It is one of the very few serious operas that have a happy ending. And there is also an important message to it. While opera plots are usually just one persistent road towards a tragic ending, here we see a long psychological fight – primarily with one’s ego. The hope that it is possible to find mercy and forgiveness in spite of mistakes and strokes of fate will be ringing in the ears of the audience.

The program also includes: Richard Wagner’s Lohengrin, which for the first time in 70 years, has been staged in Moscow. The old tale of Lohengrin, the mysterious knight of the Holy Grail, is romantic and, at the same time, frightening. The knight plays a decisive role both in the fate of Elsa, who is slanderously accused of having murdered her missing brother, and of the country plunged into chaos. He comes to Elsa’s rescue and is ready to lead the country on condition that she never asks his name or origin. The girl breaks her oath, asking her beloved to reveal his mystery. Lohengrin discloses his identity, bringing Elsa’s brother back to her, but has to leave her forever.

To work on the production of the opera, the New Opera Theater in Moscow has invited Maestro Jan Latham-Koenig, a leading European conductor and a connoisseur of the Wagnerian style, who many times conducted Lohengrin in different opera houses of the world. The maestro has always considered Wagner a special composer because of his unique musical personality. What interests him in Lohengrin is not only the splendid music, but also the opera’s philosophic and historical aspects. According to Latham-Koenig, the production of Wagner’s Lohengrin in Novaya Opera is an important cultural event.

The program also includes the ballet “Bollero,” music by M. Ravel, “Underground” music by Peteris Vasks and “Ward No 6,” music by Arvo Part.

Another highlight of the festival is the Opera-Pop-Jazz concert, performed by Estonian Dream Big Band and the Symphony Orchestra of the Moscow New Opera. This is somewhat different from similar concerts of the past years. The concert of jazz arrangements of opera music, which together with Carmina Burana became the biggest hit at the Birgitta Festival, this year presents the opera world’s top arias from the following operas: Bizet’s Carmen, Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin and The Queen of Spades, Verdi’s Traviata, Mozart’s Don Giovanni and The Magic Flute, Donizetti’s The Elixir of Love, Puccini’s Turandot and Tosca.

Side by side world-class soloists from Moscow will also perform classical and pop-jazz vocals together with soloists from Estonia. The concert program runs along the path of the history of the opera world’s highlights, in a classical key on the part of the wonderful soloists from Moscow and in an astonishing and completely “new musical suit” on the part of the soloists from Estonia. Such an experiment is the first of its kind for the Estonian musicians soprano Heli Veskus, tenor Oliver Kuusik and baritone Rene Soom from the Estonian National Opera, and for Sofia Rubina and Ott Lepland from the world of pop-jazz, as well as for the creator of the arrangements Siim Aimla – a saxophonist and the conductor of the Estonian Dream Big Band. What is important is that the audience would enjoy good classics, recognizing to their amazement also the arrangements of opera hits. This entire musical carousel will be conducted by maestro Eri Klas.

Birgitta Festival 2010 will be held till Aug. 21 and it is one of those festivals in Estonia which can’t be missed!