Savonlinna Opera Festival
The Opera Festival at Savonlinna dates to 1912. It was the brainchild of the famous Finnish soprano Aino Ackté, who saw the potential of the medieval castle of Olavinlinna, and its romantic lakeside setting. A patriot, who prided herself on Finland's emerging national identity, she staged four Finnish operas in the first five summers of the Festival.
But Ackté's ambitious vision of opera in Finland was shattered by the First World War, civil war and economic crisis, and the newly-established Festival lay dormant for nearly four decades. It was revived in 1967, when a production of Fidelio - featuring both international stars and music students - was staged in the castle courtyard. It was an instant success, and over the ensuing years the Festival grew from a one-week event into an international highlight, staging performances throughout the month of July.
Each year the Festival attracts audiences of 60,000, and many opera-lovers now travel from abroad for the Finnish experience. Since 1967, the Festival has staged ten operatic premieres, as well as putting on its own productions of leading works from the classical opera repertoire.
This year the festival is launching a new production of Puccini's Tosca, with Kristin Lewis in the title role. The Festival will also reprise its own productions of Puccini's Madama Butterfly, Bizet's Carmen and Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor.
This summer also sees the launch of the Festival's first International Singing Competition, open to women and men of all nationalities born in or after 1983 and 1980, respectively. Six singers will be chosen for the finals in Olavinlinna Castle, where they will perform with the Savonlinna Opera Festival Orchestra.
The 2014 Festival will also play host to the Royal Swedish Opera from Stockholm, who will be performing their own productions of Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro and Strauss's Elektra.
The castle lies to the southeast of Savonlinna, a popular spa and holiday resort in the middle of the Saimaa lake system in south-eastern Finland.
Olavinlinna Castle was founded in 1475 to secure the eastern border of the Kingdom of Sweden-Finland. It was built on a rocky island, making it easy to defend all year round - water floats around the castle so fast that it hardly ever freezes. During its history the castle has experienced both Swedish and Russian rule, serving as as a military stronghold, garrison and prison. Today, it is the best preserved medieval castle in the Nordic countries and is a popular year-round tourist attraction.