If you’re in Dubrovnik any time between the 10th of July and the 25th of August, you’ll encounter the much loved summer festival, a dramatic celebration of the arts.
Founded lot so long ago in 1950, the Dubrovnik Summer Festival (Dubrovacke ljetne igre) has deservedly achieved levels of popularity few things manage to reach. Held annually, the festival honours the city’s typical intellectual ways of life, breathing new life into deeply embedded creative traditions and keeping the very many literary and theatrical scholars the city has produced over the centuries as relevant today as they were in the past. Unsurprisingly, it attracts more and more locals and visitors each year. Opened with a dramatic firework display and held under the culturally invaluable Libertas flag, more than 70 open-air venues surrounded by the magical Baroque-Renaissance ambience of Dubrovnik host an extremely rich programme of theatre, opera, classical music and dance performances.
Programmes vary each year, each one giving the stage to a wide array of drama, opera and dance. The dramatic works of the famous Dubrovnik playwright Marin Drzic often take centre stage, along with those of the equally celebrated and local great minds of the ”king of comedy” Ivan Gundulic and Ivo Vojnovic, the author of The Trilogy of Dubrovnik (Dubrovacka trilogija). Other Croatian and wider European dramatic works have become more and more frequent as the years have gone by, these include the famous Greek tragedies, Goethe and of course the timeless plays of William Shakespeare, whose works are performed on Lovrijenac Fortress to a remarkable degree of excellence each year. The atmospheric stages for the performances vary as much as the content does, with the Rectors Palace, Sponza Palace, the Old Harbour (stara luka) and Gradac Park being just a few picturesque backdrops. Prominent European theatre companies to have performed during the festival include the London Prospect Theatre Company, the Greek National Theatre, Piccolo Teatro from Milan and Krakow’s Teatar Stary. As well as acting, ballet and dance from performers from all over the world are staged, the American Ballet Theatre, the Antonio Gades troupe, the balled of the Hungarian State Opera and the London Festival Ballet are just a few of the names Dubrovnik’s Summer Festival has seen come and go.
As for musical and opera performances, Dubrovnik is well known for setting an incredibly high standard, coupled with well functioning usage of large acoustic architecture, performances held during the festival are second to none. The festival programmes were originally designed to showcase only the best local and Croatian composers, orchestras and singers, but it didn’t take long until that plan fell through, with musical talent arriving from all over Europe and indeed the rest of the world by as early as the late 1950’s. Operatic performances began in 1951, just one year after the birth of the festival, with the Sarajevo Opera making a guest appearance. Guest appearances continued in the same manner until 1963 with opera performances from groups from all over the former Yugoslavia until 1964, when ”The Coronation of Poppea” was performed in front of the beautiful Rectors Palace under the conduction and direction of the Croatian conductor Lovro Matacic. The Rectors Palace remains the main stage for chamber opera, having been host to the Phoenix Opera from London, the Moscow Chamber Musical Theatre and the Opera of the Croatian National Theatre from Zagreb. The famed festival has seen numerous incredibly talented musical artists perform, including but not limited to Montserrat Caballe, London’s Amadeus Quartet, the Prague Chamber Orchestra and the Swedish opratic tenor Nicolai Gedda.
If you are in Dubrovnik this summer, take my advice and go to see at least one performance. Many of them, particularly Shakespeare’s works, are performed in English or Olde English language. Aside from international dramatic productions, the city is a hotbed of intellect, having gifted so many writers, poets, scholars, actors and playwrights to the world – it would be wrong to miss out on experiencing a part of the freedom of the soul of Dubrovnik that otherwise remains silent.