July 12, 2007


A post before I set off towards the Curonian Spit in Lithuania today (expect a detailed travel report in about a week) to get this blog back on its feet.

Built in the late 15th century, Olavinlinna is the world's northernmost medieval castle.

Yesterday, I returned from Savonlinna, where I spent a day and two nights at the famous opera festival. The last time I was there in 1992 (1993?) was the very first time I heard an entire opera (Aida), and I'd say fifteen years was enough of a wait for going to see performances at the breath-taking Olavinlinna castle once again. Since my friend Jarno has been spending the entire summer holidays working in the opera chorus there, I was able to stay with him and so there was nothing stopping me from heading out to the Finnish countryside.

And let me tell you that Finland is better than ever. Savonlinna, with a population of about 27 000, is probably one of the most unique places of its size anywhere. Okay, so the town is probably in something of a vegetative state during the winter, but the action kicks up in the summer, when countless musicians and art-lovers from the capital and all over the country arrive to enjoy the top-class performances. Apart from the opera, it was very pleasant to walk along Lake Saimaa, have coffee and a traditional lörtsy at the marketplace, and, of course, check out the vibrant nightlife which is a result of all those thousands of opera-lovers heading for a drink after struggling through the claustrophobic crouds on the bridge to the castle.

The downside, of course, is that the locals make full use of the high season to really rip the country off: a small plate of fried fish with a drop of mashed potatoes easily costs 16€, while, for the workers, rents for apartments soar to meet near-Helsinki standards. However, Savonlinna is worth visiting, since it is probably one of the symbols of the Finnish summer.

A seagull in Helsinki.

The operas I saw at the festival were previously unknown to me: Verdi's Macbeth, one of his earlier works, and Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor. Both performances were exceptional and credit must be given to all singers involved. Macbeth might not have the gripping melodies of Verdi's later masterpieces, but the oppressive atmosphere is fantastically conveyed in the music. I did my homework and read the original play on my way from Helsinki.

Donizetti is no Verdi, but the music had its great moments (not to mention a bravura harp solo in the second act!) and Cuban-American soprano Eglise Gutierrez certainly earned the standing ovation at the end of the night. For the second night, I arrived at the castle without a ticket and stood outside the entrance with a sign saying "I'll buy a ticket". Almost at once, I was approached by a German tour group trying to get rid of an extra ticket. Happy to speak German again, I tried to strike a conversation with them, but couldn't quite match up when they started raving about previous trips to see opera performances at Verona and Sydney.

Savonlinna's sky yesterday morning at 5:14.

After just one hour's sleep and a shockingly early breakfast at 24h Cafe Torppa (for some party-goers apparently a late night snack), I took the train back. It was difficult not to feel a rush of adrenalin as the Pendolino sped across the newly built track between Lahti and Kerava at a speed of 220 km/h. Finnish trains, by the way, are much more comfortable than Austrian ones.

July 06, 2007

Last days in Austria + return to Finland: a collage

Our last days in Graz seemed to herald an apocalypse in a style close to magic realism. The complete power blackout in our flat was spooky enough, but this sudden shocking appearance on my laptop combined with my earphones ceasing to work was a little too much.

Our private fashion show.

Mirga conducting Frauenstimmung Lassnitzhöhe in a successful outdoor concert. The rain hardly bothered!

Miriam and Gerd relaxing at chor pro musica's summer party.

The Keys.

Day of departure...

Day of departure, nine months ago...

Arrival in Helsinki.