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Reviewer Mike Amundsen recaps the Birgitta Festival, which filled Pirita with opera and ballet in August's deepening nights.

The festival, its ninth season just passed, is a special delight for lovers of musical theater performed every August in the unique and stunning setting of the ruins of the Pirita Convent in Tallinn.

Each of the Birgittas has brought intriguing international collaborations. This year saw the UK’s Opera North produce Gounod’s opera "Faust" for a 21st century audience. Director Ran Arthur Braun sought to couple the opera's orchestral arrangements with a multimedia display. “We use visual elements that react to the sound of orchestra and voice and try to project an emotional rather than a rational reality,” Braun said.

Rimsky-Korsakov’s opera "The Tsar’s Bride" was the work of Parnu’s Promfest Festival and Lithuania’s Kaunas State Music Theater. This work, among the most popular in the Russian repertoire, had not been performed in Estonia in 50 years. Director Teet Kask looked to create a fantastic fairytale world in which this uniquely Russian tragedy could unfold. Rimsky-Korsakov’s score provided gorgeous melodies and memorable arias, especially from Ukraine’s Angelina Shvachka as Lyubasha.

Birgitta’s final night brought a production of "Sleeping Beauty" from Moscow’s Kremlin Ballet Theatre. Marvelous sets, costumes and consummate dancing skill provided an exceptional night’s entertainment. The only complaint here is that there was no live orchestra performing Tchaikovsky’s score. Music as spellbinding and beautiful as the Russian master’s deserves to be appreciated by theater-goers with musicians and a conductor interpreting the score in the moment.

But the truth is that this Birgitta will be remembered for its homegrown production. The premiere of the of musical "Arabella" based upon Aino Pervik’s 1982 novel for young people, "Arabella, the Pirate’s Daughter," was produced by the Birgitta Festival with an all-Estonian cast. Longtime Estonian theater and television actress Maria Soomets did fine work as Arabella, belting out some Broadway-worthy tunes in this infectious show. Director Margus Kasterpalu created some marvelous scenes of ensemble song and dance and considerable humor in a work that is girded with serious subject matter. Greed and its consequences, separation from loved ones and the development of young people in difficult circumstances is at the heart of this story.

The director of the Birgitta Festival, longtime Estonian conductor Eri Klas, had this to say after the premiere: “I am more proud of 'Arabella' than anything we’ve done; all of the operas and ballets. This means the most.”

Mike Amundsen is co-editor at

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