Alongside Umeå of Sweden, Riga has just taken on the prestigious title of European Capital of Culture for 2014. And with Latvia’s adoption of the euro from the start of the year, travelling to its capital city is even easier than ever before. We take a look at a few of the events that Riga’s got planned from a cultural perspective over the coming year.
Kicking off the inaugural festivities last weekend, Riga witnessed a 3km-long human chain across the city, where books were transferred by hand from the old National Library to the newly-built Gaismas Pils (Palace of Light) National Library. Taking place here, ‘The Book 1514 – 2014’ is an exhibition devoted to 500 years of the printed book, 1514 being a landmark year in publishing.
In commemoration of the commencement of World War I, the Latvian National Museum of Art lays on its ‘1914’ exhibition, the central theme of which is to demonstrate the tragedies experienced by the Latvian people through wartime. Presenting unique photographs, contemporary art and Classical modernism from Latvia together with paintings and sculptures from art galleries and institutions across Central and Eastern Europe, the exhibition showcases a view of the First World War as seen by famous European artists and is on display at the museum’s Arsenals Exhibition Hall until April 20th (closed Mondays).
At the Natural History Museum of Latvia meanwhile, the country’s most unique natural resource, amber, takes centre stage. On a visit here, not only can you discover how amber is formed, its characteristics, uses and by-products, but also its vital importance on the ancient trading routes between the Baltic Coast and Mediterranean and Black Seas. With amber artefacts and artworks demonstrating the immense cultural, historical, geological, medical and artistic value of this beautiful raw material, this is a fascinating insight into a scarcely-known string to Latvia’s bow.
The Latvian National Opera’s programme of events is worth perusing. Continuing the bicentennial celebrations for Richard Wagner, fans of the composer will be able to enjoy a number of performances of ‘Rienzi’, an opera Wagner began work on in Riga. It also lays on two original operas: the first, ‘Chess’ is dedicated to the Riga-born chess player, Mikhail Tal, whilst ‘Valentina’ tells the operatic story of Valentina Freimane, an exceptional cultural and historical figure from Riga. And alongside the new, there’s always the ever popular operatic and balletic mainstays – The Nutcracker, Carmen, Swan Lake, Nabucco and The Marriage of Figaro to name but a few.
From March 20th to April 20th, the spring festival ‘WINDSTREAM 2014’ takes place across a number of churches and concert halls in the city. Based on the theme of Bach, the festival offers a series of classical and non-classical concerts by Latvian and foreign composers performed by the Riga Professional Symphonic Band and other musicians. In July meanwhile, some 20,000 singers from nearly 90 countries will descend on the city to compete in the World Choir Games whilst in August, the International Sigulda Opera Music Festival takes place amidst the ruins of Sigulda Castle (situated about an hour from Riga), also the venue for the Sigulda Blues Festival. And throughout the year the city presents, ‘Born in Riga’ a series of solo concerts by global music stars born in Latvia, including an open-air concert in the summer.
And if that’s not enough, there’s contemporary theatrical performances and film documentaries, science and light festivals to whet your cultural appetite. Tom Jones is even on the bill!