The 74th Dubrovnik Summer Festival – A Delight For The Masses

Lauren Simmonds

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dubrovnik summer festival

August the 1st, 2023 – With numerous theatrical and musical events springing up all over Europe back in the 50’s, it’s only logical that the Dubrovnik Summer Festival was founded. Dubrovnik is much more than sunshine and sea, and this intellectual, creative city has a festival that does it absolute justice.

A look back in time at the history of Dubrovnik’s famed summer festival

Every summer, from the 10th of July to the 25th of August, nearly 2,000 artists from around the world perform approximately 70 dramatic, musical, dance, folk and other programmes on the ambient stages of the Baroque-Renaissance City of Dubrovnik. All of this is done in front of a varied audience of approximately 60,000 local and international visitors. This harmonisation of the renaissance and baroque atmosphere of the Pearl of the Adriatic, mixed in with the immortal spirit of theatre and music, keeps Dubrovnik’s name tightly in line with culture, creativity and literature. Dubrovnik is a city of art, and this festival showcases its identity in a way few other things ever could.

Drawing on its abundant and vibrant heritage, the Dubrovnik Summer Festival promotes ambience as its unique artistic postulate. It does the same with new art forms and aesthetics that are reflected in fusion with both tradition and modernity. All of this is done while blending local, national and international creativity.

The most beautiful city doubles up as the most incredible stage

The Dubrovnik Summer Festival doesn’t use open air venues as mere visual attractions and face the walls of the palaces and beautiful gardens only as sets. In Dubrovnik, the space in which a performance is held is decisive in creating a theatrical event. That is the reason why our catalogue, over its more than seven decades of existence, comprises approximately 130 various venues! That actually encompasses almost the entire city and the sea surrounding it, which results in a unique bond between the City and the Festival.

Over the years, the music programme has hosted many of the world’s finest conductors, orchestras, choirs and soloists, including the Berlin Philharmonic conducted by Herbert von Karajan and the Israeli Philharmonic conducted by Zubin Mehta. Svyatoslav Richter, Vladimir Ashkenazy, David Oistrakh, Monserrat Caballé, Ramon Vargas, Inva Mula, Leo Nucci, Daniel Barenboim and many other names have performed at the Dubrovnik Summer Festival.

As a meeting place and a cultural venue, this festival promotes Dubrovnik as a Croatian and international cultural centre by sharing and giving the stage to new ideas and facilitating various new projects. It’s no wonder that the BBC Music Magazine wrote that Dubrovnik Summer Festival is “Croatia’s major export brand”.

What can we expect from the Dubrovnik Summer Festival for the rest of 2023’s programme?

In short – you won’t be disappointed. As its rich history firmly suggests, the Dubrovnik Summer Festival brings the absolute best and most varied culture and arts to the interested public. This year’s programme will be no different in that regard.

So far this summer, the festival has already had incredible performances by the likes of Portuguese fado diva Mariza (July the 15th). Her performance left the audience on the Revelin Fort’s terrace astounded. Her spectacular concert mesmerised all those who witnessed it, and she showcased why she is considered to be among the most talented vocalists on the current global musical scene.

While astonishingly talented, Mariza is far from the only stunning performance the festival has already seen this year. One of world’s most highly respected and renowned pianists, Sir Andras Schiff, took to his piano at the Rector’s Palace on the 13th of July, delighting the audience with his enviable talent and skill. His was the very first on the musical programme for this summer’s edition of the festival, and his performance left nobody indifferent. In fact, he provoked a well-deserved standing ovation.

Let’s take a look at what’s still to come and the names set to take to the stage that is Dubrovnik during this, the 74th festival.

Big names and endless talent

Let’s start off with the incredibly talented Maxim Emelyanychev, one of the best Russian conductors of the younger generation, who conducted Mozart’s ‘Great’ Mass in C minor back during the 2018 Dubrovnik Summer Festival with enormous success. This year, he is set to perform as a pianist at the Rector’s Palace Atrium on the 4th August, alongside the outstanding Russian violinist Aylen Pritchin, with whom he has closely collaborated since they were students at the Moscow Conservatory.

Very well-known among classical music lovers, virtuoso cellist Nicolas Altstaedt will perform with the Dubrovnik Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Pavle Zajcev on the 2nd of August. Like many distinguished musicians nowadays, Altstaedt has turned to conducting, leading orchestras such as the Budapest Festival Orchestra and the Warsaw Philharmonic. He is primarily known for stylistic versatility, perfection and charisma.

The Dubrovnik Symphony Orchestra will also perform with soprano Josipa Bilić, the winner of the recent Ferdo Livadić Award for Best Artistic Personality, under the baton of Valentin Egel, a young laureate of the Lovro von Matačić International Competition of Young Conductors and chief conductor of the Rijeka Symphony Orchestra.

On the occasion of Blagoje Bersa’s 150th birthday, a piano trio comprised of Marco Graziani, Latica Anić and Krešimir Starčević has prepared a rich programme of Bersa’s works and Sergey Rachmaninoff’s trios  ̶  a perfect occasion to enjoy a top chamber performance of Croatian musicians.

German cellist Eckart Runge, alongside pianist Martina Filjak and saxophonist Gordan Tudor, will showcase a repertoire strongly influenced by jazz and tango – the saxophone, cello, and piano. This highly unusual combination, in the hands of musicians of broad interests, is inclined towards improvisation and a creative approach to music-making. A must-see in August are also the Mendelssohn Chamber Orchestra and Hungarian violinist Kristóf Baráti, recognised on the global stage as a musician of extraordinary quality with an expressive range and an utterly impeccable technique. Baráti is often praised for the poetry and eloquence he brings to his performances, described by some as a “true aesthete of the highest calibre.”

Composed of members of the renowned Amsterdam Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra (RCO), the Camerata RCO enjoys an exceptional reputation in the Netherlands and holds around fifty concerts each season in music capitals such as Amsterdam, Vienna, Tokyo, Seoul, Madrid, Rome, and New York. They will add Dubrovnik to their enviable list on the 18th of August in the Rector’s Palace atrium.

The Festival’s closing concert in front of the Cathedral will include the performance of the Croatian Radio and Television Symphony Orchestra and guest soloists.

There’s nothing lacking when it comes to August’s theatre programme, either

The monodrama Masks by the actor and director Dražen Šivak is another co-production and premiere at this year’s Dubrovnik Summer Festival, made by the Dubrovnik Summer Festival itself, and the Grupa Art Organisation. Its opening night is set for the 12th of August at the Bokar Fort where it will bring the commedia dell’arte tradition to life and present it to wider audiences. In the form of a lecture, the actor on the stage explains the meaning of the masks and archetypes in commedia dell’arte form, which significantly influenced classical Dubrovnik dramatic literature.  

The final theatre premiere, The Melancholy Women of Ragusa, is directed by the Festival’s Artistic Director Dora Ruždjak Podolski. The play’s subject matter is taken from archives of the historic Republic of Dubrovnik which had, in its great desire to protect its women, often systemically worked against them. Some of the play’s heroines had been aware of this, others hadn’t; some rebelled and resisted, while others suffered in silence; some opposed their given roles and rank, and some resigned themselves to it. However, each one of them did something that history has taken note of and duly remembered. The Festival Drama Ensemble, made up by Nataša Dangubić, Gloria Dubelj, Anica Kontić, Nataša Kopeč, Iva Kraljević, Lana Meniga, Lidija Penić-Grgaš, Lucija Rukavina, Nikolina Prkačin and Marin Klišmanić, will be performing the play at Gradac Park from the 17th to the 21st of August

To the delight of the youngest among the 74th Dubrovnik Summer Festival audience, The Enchanted Forest is in this year’s programme yet again. This is a children’s musical theatre piece based on the eponymous novel by Sunčana Škrinjarić and directed by Lea Anastazija Fleger, with music composed by Frano Đurović under the baton of Mateo Narančić.

Mara and Kata, an original project by Saša Božić in collaboration with actresses Nataša Dangubić and Doris Šarić-Kukuljica, will be making the audience laugh for the fourth season in a row this summer. In the year marking the hundredth anniversary of Miljenko Smoje‘s birth, the characters from his iconic Velo misto are brought to life on stage under the direction of Marina Pejnović, who also adapted Smoje’s novel. The festival audience will watch this Komedija Theatre production on the iconic Revelin Fort terrace.

The traditional staging of the Lero Student Theatre is once again a part of the Dubrovnik Summer Festival, with Mostly Sunny which continues, in line with its characteristic stage poetics and directing style of Davor Mojaš, to recognise and open up some current reflections of fraught, sombre everyday life filled with warning winds and stifled sighs so common of autumn, and not only in Dubrovnik.

The dance programme is also a very rich one…

Ballet lovers will enjoy The Great Gatsby performed by the Croatian National Theatre in Split, choreographed and directed by Leo Mujić on the 2nd and 3rd of August. The audience will get to enjoy Francis Scott Fitzgerald’s literary masterpiece set in the roaring twenties New York in early August.

An integral part of the Dubrovnik Summer Festival’s programme are performances by the Linđo Folklore Ensemble, who will take the stage on the Revelin Fort terrace a total of four times this summer. This year, their programme is based on the classical repertoire, but with a new original opening, two new pieces of choreography, and a musical number (on the 5th, 14th and 19th of August).

A city of art in every single sense

As you can gather from the extensive information provided in this article about the amazing Dubrovnik Summer Festival which has been delighting people from far and wide for 74 years now, the Pearl of the Adriatic, or Croatia’s tourist Mecca, is far more than a place to visit to top up your tan and have a swim. This city lives, breathes, and is built on art. A cradle of diplomacy literature, music, drama, theatre and comedy – the home of Dubrovnik-born writer Marin Držić continues to stay true to itself in every possible way. Come and experience the heart and lungs of a city that has surprised the world, time and time again.


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