Paper "Libertas" fans fluttered in anticipation for the start of the 62nd Dubrovnik Summer Festival on 10 July 2011. The oldest cultural festival in Croatia took place on Luža square in front of St. Blaise's Church in Stari Grad, Dubrovnik's Old Town.
The crowd was packed in bleachers adjacent to the Church and Sponza Palace,and additional onlookers overflowed onto Stradun for a glimpse of the action. The tower bell tolled and lights brightened for the procession of Croatia's President, Ivo Josipović, and the Mayor of Dubrovnik, Dr. Andro Vlahušić, who emerged from Sponza and took their places in bleachers next to the choir and orchestra in front of St. Blaise's.
Lights dimmed for the Croatian national anthem. Torches flickered in the soft summer wind. Even amid the resonant music, the cackles of local Čiopa birds could be heard from above. Mayor Vlahušić addressed the audience, and then the festivities began. A pair of men dressed in loincloths and fully painted silver-grey danced to what sounded like crackling stones over loudspeakers. Two women painted in the same fashion joined them. As they danced, they blended in with the Old City's famous grey-white limestone, shiny and smooth from centuries of footsteps and dotted with pockmarks from history. When the crackling stones transformed to operatic singing, a calm descended upon the audience. Trumpets sounded and the "stone" men and women scattered. A parade of people from across the centuries emerged--Victorian ladies, a Jester, men and women dressed in traditional Croatian garb, a Vegas showgirl adorned with a plume of pink feathers--signifying a merging of old and new. "Stone men" descended on cables down the bell tower with the "Libertas" flag, which was then carried to the central flagpole in front of St. Blaise's Church. As the flag was raised, the choir swelled into a crescendo. The word that hung in the air after the song concluded was "sloboda"--freedom.
The performance was written and directed by Dora Ruždjak and performed by Students of Academy of Drama Arts in Zagreb and Festival Drama Ensemble. The music, by Frano Đurović, was conducted by Ivan Repušić and performed by the Dubrovnik Symphony Orchestra and the Zagreb Philharmonic Orchestra. The choir was an amalgam of the choirs of Croatian National Theatre Split,Dubrovnik Chamber, and Libertas. The after party was held at Art Garden (Dubrovnik Galerija Umjetnička) across from Hotel Excelsior near the Ploče gates. There, Mayor Vlahušić told me that he enjoyed the festival, and that it was a departure from the more traditional Opening Ceremony festivities that had taken place in the past. "It is symbolic of new times," he said. I had the opportunity to ask President Josipović what message he wanted to send back to Croatians living in America. "We are a new, modern, open country," President Josipović said. "I hope they will join us in the development of Croatia, and invest and support us politically, artistically, and emotionally."