World festivals mark global events that are a must-see for any dedicated traveler. Although lesser known than major global favorites like Carnival or Burning Man, the White Nights Festival in Russia is a collision of culture, arts and music that provides one of the richest experience around.
Every May through July, the streets of St. Petersburg, Russia, come alive with colorful celebrations and performances by some of the world's most talented artists. The White Nights Festival is an international arts festival that takes place during the season of the midnight sun, when the Northern Light shines at both dawn and dusk, allowing the millions of festival-goers that visit each year the opportunity to celebrate all day and all night long.
A Cultural Celebration of Music and Arts
The festival celebrates the arts of opera, ballet, and classical music and is kicked off with the "Stars of the White Nights" at the world famous Mariinsky Theatre. The program presents the company's most exceptional productions, with performances by leading Russian and international artists, and combines famous historical productions along with new premieres and contemporary pieces. This year's program kicks off on May 27th and has featured nationally renowned productions like Swan Lake in the past. During the festival there are daily evening performances of either ballet or opera at the theatre and classical or opera musical performances at the Mariinsky Concert Hall. The series of performances always features some of the biggest names in the arts world, including famed Spanish tenor Placido Domingo, Russian operatic soprano Anna Netrebko, and Los Angeles Opera conductor James Conlon. Ballet performances have included revivals of Russian choreographer George Balanchine's classics, as well as contemporary dance versions of The Nutcracker and Cinderella. The performances are all widely attended and visitors' best bet would be to purchase tickets online in advance.
Carnivals - Fun for the Whole Family
Carnivals also occur during the White Nights Festival and allow both children and adults to delight in traditional games and fine food. The largest carnival is held in the suburb of Peterhof, where historical figures and events are reinterpreted by costumed actors. Carnivals at the Catherine Palace and in the Pavlovsk suburb of St. Petersburg are also known for their highly artistic reproductions of the historic events that took place at those palaces. For music lovers, St. Petersburg's Palace Square becomes home to some of the international music world's biggest stars during the festival. The large square has been used for official military parades and massive demonstrations, and has also been the site of recent concerts by legendary musicians like Paul McCartney and The Rolling Stones.
Fireworks and Finales
The culminating event of the festival is the Scarlet Sails celebration, which is a massive event to celebrate the end of the school year that is known for its spectacular fireworks display and a water show that features boats full of pirates battling on the Neva River. Musical acts and motorboat and rowing races are also highlights of the celebration. The tradition began in St. Petersburg after the end of WWII, when several schools in Leningrad united to celebrate the ending of a school year in connection with symbolism of the popular children's book "Scarlet Sails" by Alexander Grin. At the first celebration a boat with scarlet sails sailed along the English Embankment and the Admiralty Embankment towards the Winter Palace.