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Top Five Summer Music Festivals in Historic Settings

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In the competitive field of international summer festivals, spectacular sightseeing often combines with beautiful sounds. With stages in Roman amphitheaters, 17th century palaces, and churches where Mozart played, these five festivals should delight both history buffs and classical music fans.

1. Salzburg Festival

One of the most famous and venerable of all summer classical music series, the Salzburg Festival, running from July 19 through September 1, selects its performance halls from the historic palaces and churches all over the city. From buildings that stood during Mozart’s time (the 12th-century Benedictine Abbey of St. Peter, and the baroque Cathedral Square) to ones named in his honor (the grand 19th-century Mozarteum and the recently remodeled Haus fur Mozart), few festivals have as much charm and can claim as important a legacy in music history.

2. Versailles Festival

The gardens, fountains, mirrored halls, gilded chapels and other exquisitely decorated rooms at Versailles compete with the entertainment at the palace’s annual summer festival. Inspired by the 400th anniversary of the birth of Versailles gardener and landscaper André Le Nôtre, this year’s offerings, from May 31 through July 7, include innovative programs celebrating flora. Performers include early music specialist such as Jordi Savall, William Christie, and Cecilia Bartoli, and events like the first Royal Carousel since Louis XIV’s reign and a masked ball in the Orangerie also harken the 17th century.

3. Savonlinna Opera Festival

Richard Wagner created the Bayreuth Festspielhaus to his precise specifications, but it’s hard to think of a more fitting fairy-tale setting for his operas than the Savonlinna Opera Festival. Set in eastern Finland, the 15th-century Olavinlinna castle (below) provides the venue for performances. This fortress protected the Swedes against Russian attacks from 1495 through the mid-19th century. During the festival, from July 5 through August 3, it will be better appreciated as a backdrop for productions of Wagner’s Lohengrin and Verdi’s Macbeth.

4. Dubrovnik Summer Festival

The ancient streets of Dubrovnik’s Old Town, a UNESCO heritage site, provides numerous picturesque settings for its annual summer festival. World-class musicians perform on stages set in old forts, Gothic churches and Renaissance squares, which draws figures from around the world. This year’s edition, from July 10 to August 25, combines concerts by Croatian performers and international acts, including Rufus Wainwright and the London Sinfonietta.

5. Verona Opera Festival

The Roman Amphitheater where the Verona Opera Festival takes place each year predates the invention of opera. Built in 30 AD, its use as a music venue is a relative recent development, beginning in the 19th century. The festival, which marks its 100th anniversary (with a program honoring Verdi’s 200th), will be a fitting backdrop for this season’s productions for the classical subjects in Aida and Nabucco, as well as a geographically accurate staging of Gounod’s Roméo et Juilliette. The festival runs from June 1 through early September.

Arena di Verona (foto Ennevi)