20 March 2018
ACE Staff Member Isabel Sudbury travelled to Riga Opera Festival last year with her grandma Margaret as part of the ACE group.
Passion and drama on show at the Riga Opera Festival
Last year, as a new member of the Sales team, I was given the wonderful opportunity to join an ACE tour. Duly bearing my red name badge and suitcase, my voyage of discovery began as I set off to witness the passions and drama on show at the Riga Opera Festival.
The tour was led by Nick Wearne, whose musical expertise and enthusiasm was the perfect accompaniment for our programme.
We were lucky to have two excellent local guides too, Juris and Olga, who brought their city alive for us. My fellow travellers were a charming group with a wealth of interests and experiences – one of these passengers was my grandma Margaret, which made the trip even more special for me.
The ACE group in Riga old town
Our comfortable hotel was in the picturesque Old Town, perfectly located for the Opera House just a few hundred yards along the street.
Our musical entertainment was begun each morning with a talk by Nick on the composers we would hear later that day – for me as an opera novice, it was a good introduction.
The festival was a special programme of performances with the theme 'Viva Romantica!', and featured four operas; Gounod's 'Faust', Tchaikovsky's 'Eugene Onegin', Wagner's 'Tannhäuser', and Bizet's 'Carmen'.
Two generations on an ACE Tour, Isabel and her grandma Margaret
It was a real treat to dress up and enjoy the golden splendour of the Opera House, complete with a terrace bar overlooking the park - the perfect place to spend an interval sipping champagne in the evening sunlight.
As I was surrounded by opera aficionados, it was interesting to hear how everybody responded differently to the various styles of performance. Most of the group gave a good review of 'Faust' on the first night, which was energetic and fantastically theatrical.
I was initially apprehensive about 'Tannhäuser' due to its length (4 hours!), but was soon entranced by the imaginative staging and sublime music.
Although music was the main focus of the tour, our trip gave the chance to explore a wide variety of Latvian culture.
A walking tour of the city helped us to understand the country's chequered history, and Riga’s political and diplomatic importance across the centuries.
Isabel joined ACE's Sales & Reservation team last year with a bachelor's degree in Classics and a postgraduate research degree exploring the influence of Classics on First World War poets.
"Whilst I have always been a lover of the Arts, I have focused mainly on literature in my academic studies and wider interests. As a complete opera novice, I was very excited to learn new things from Nick and the enthusiastic ACE group I travelled with. My time in Riga really expanded my horizons, not just in terms of the musical performances we saw, but through the broader context of the city’s culture and history".
We saw the city from above, by climbing the tower of St Peter’s Church, and at a more leisurely pace from a canal boat trip around the old town and onto the mighty Daugava river.
The city was an intriguing architectural mix; pretty medieval streets, graceful Jugendstil/Art Nouveau buildings, imposing remains of Soviet style, and the strength of independence represented by the Freedom Monument.
We also took coach trips outside Riga to get a different perspective. There was the Open Air Museum where numerous old buildings had been set amidst pine forests and shimmering birch trees to give a view of traditional life.
Our final day took us even further afield to the magnificent Rundāle Palace, designed by Rastrelli before he worked on the Winter Palace at St Petersburg. With ornamental gardens and glittering chandeliers in every room, it was easy to see the similarities.
Having only joined the company in April, I felt very lucky to have enjoyed such a fantastic experience so early on and to get the best sense of how our tours operate on a practical level. It has been enormously helpful in enabling me to answer questions about our trips – and of course it was delightful to speak to people face to face rather than just over the phone!
Posted in: Tours