Latvia is a small country, but people here do love arts, and cultural events abound. Those residing in Riga find themselves in a privileged position because most of the events take place in the capital city. Other cities and regions of Latvia try not to lag behind and often organise events of different kinds—traditional festivities and fairs, concerts, plays and other contemporary cultural events.
Riga can be proud of its cultural scene, which is going to be interesting for everyone who enjoys ballet, opera, classical music, theatre and alternative culture. Latvian National Opera (LNO) is the institution, which has managed to acquire international recognition. Each year it stages several new operas and ballet performances representing both traditional and modern approaches to choreography and interpretation of music. LNO is regularly working with guest artists here in Riga and from time to time also appearing in festivals abroad. Several Latvian dancers and singers permanently reside and perform in the best theatres of Europe and other countries making classical music the source of pride for Latvians. LNO was founded in 1919 and since then has become a locally much loved and internationally well-known opera house. We suggest you to see a performance or even to be in the capital city during the Riga Opera Festival, which takes place each year in June.
Those who love classical music will not be bored in Riga because there are many performances and numerous concert halls. The main locations to keep in mind are: Small Guild and Great Guild, Wagner Hall, House of Blackheads as well as the churches of Old Town. A special treat to concert-goers are the many festivals which take place in Riga and elsewhere in Latvia: New Music Festival “Arena” (October); Early Music Festival (July); Sigulda Opera Music Festival (August); International Sacred Music Festvial (August-September); International Festival of Pianism Stars in Liepaja (March); Kremerata Baltica Festival (June); saxophone music festival “Saxophonia” (February); Organ Music Festival “Rīgas Doms” (July); International Ballet Festival (spring); and International Rhythmic Music Festival “Rīgas Ritmi” (July). The most spectacular and at the same time the most Latvian of all the large-scale events is the Song and Dance Festival. It brings together the best of Latvian amateur choirs and folkdance troupes resulting in a magnificent and very emotional performance. The Festival takes place only once in a five years, but it is really worth planning your visit exactly for the summer of Song festival (nearest date—July 2008)!
Pop music, other genres of contemporary music and good DJs can be enjoyed in local bars and clubs, especially on Friday and Saturday nights when people like to go out. From time to time Riga is visited by world-famous bands and singers, mostly coming from Europe, the United States or Russia. Love of the audience definitely belongs to the local Latvian band “Brainstorm”, but such performers as Depeche Mode, Sting, REM and others do not lag far behind. Alternative music and art events are often organised in the recently discovered area of Andrejsala—a former port territory with industrial buildings which now have been handed over to private developers. It is a place to be if you want to experience something out of the ordinary, slightly rough but beautiful and absolutely contemporary.
In terms of visual arts, there are things to see in Latvia. Start with the Latvian National Museum of Art which will give you an insight into the history of Latvian art and local trends. A new ambitious project is under way—construction of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Andrejsala. The Musuem’s project is currently being developed with the assistance of the famous Danish architect Rem Kolhaas. While Latvia does not have its own institution and collection of contemporary art, the works of current Latvian artists can be seen in galleries which usually are located in the Old Town (“Gallery Riga,” “Bastejs,” “AG7” etc.) as well as in the spacious and white exhibition space “Arsenals” which belongs to the National Museum of Art.
Theatre and Cinema
Some words have to be said about theatre and cinema, which is the problem child of Latvian cultural scene. There are several theatres in Latvia with an interesting repertoire. Among the biggest and most well-known is the National, Dailes and Russian Drama theatres in Riga as well as Valmiera and Liepaja theatres. The New Riga Theatre (NRT) deserves special attention—it would be reasonable to say that it is the new big thing in the context of contemporary theatre. Working under the supervision of the artistic director Alvis Hermanis, NRT has gained European-wide fame with its creative approach to making theatre—one that is rooted in a curious realism and the scenes of contemporary Latvian life.
Latvian cinema nowadays finds itself in a difficult position and lately has been the object of fierce battles for funding and public support. Local directors, however, manage to make some nice shorts, movies and cartoons even in low-budget circumstances (Janis Streics, Laila Pakalnina, Viesturs Kairiss, film studio “Animacijas Brigade”). As a special treat to cinema-goers are the two film festivals: “Baltic Pearl” (yearly) and “Arsenal” (every second year).