With Latvian Soprano Sonora Vaice, who sang Violetta in Traviata
The world is going to hell in a hand-cart. A landslide tragedy in Hiroshima. A new War with Islamist brigands in Iraq. Refugees fleeing to Syria, or anywhere they can get away to. Russia and Ukraine fighting a low-level proxy war in Eastern Ukraine — and now what technically amounts to a Russian invasion. The crisis in Gaza. Ebola rife across Africa. Even the National Guard called out on the streets of Ferguson, Missouri. I wish I could offer solutions to some of these problems. But as it is, I shall offer you instead an account of my recent visit to Riga, in Latvia. For those unfamiliar with Baltic geography, Latvia is the central Baltic state east of the sea, and its neighbours are Estonia to the North,Lithuania to the South — and Russia to the East.
I first went to Latvia in my political capacity, to do what I could to help two constituents who had run into a problem with the local constabulary, back in 2009. Eventually the problem was sorted out, but at great personal cost to the individuals concerned. These events illustrated to me the profound injustices of the European Arrest Warrant, and I have spoken out against it ever since. It is a vast injustice that British citizens can be sent abroad on the whim of a foreign magistrate, with no defence, no safeguards, no checks and balances. But that is another story.
I may have had problems with the Latvian legal system, but Riga itself is a delight – as the capital of a small state with a population of around two million, Riga manages to be a capital city with a small town flavour. The Old Town is particularly delightful. Winding streets, heavily pedestrianised, and packed with bars, restaurants, street stalls, boutique shops. The City is noted for its Art Nouveau architecture, especially in the Alberta Street area which I visited, and took far too many pictures of Art Nouveau features (web link to follow). In Riga, Art Nouveau is still known by its German name Jugendsil — though I find the term vaguely ominous.
Perhaps at this point I should stress that this summer’s trip was a private visit, a holiday, and before my regular internet trolls get carried away (they have already raised the question) I paid for it entirely myself. Nevertheless, I did one or two things with a political character. For a start, I paid a courtesy call on the European parliament office Parliament office in Riga (yes, there is one!).
I also looked up a former Latvian colleague Inese Vaidere . An MEP from 2004 to 2014, she sadly failed to be re-elected this year. However she was first runner-up on her party’s list. And top of her list was former Latvian Prime Minister Vladis Dombrovskis. He has been nominated as the new Latvian EU Commissioner, and is rather likely to be confirmed. If so, Inese will be back in the parliament for the current term — and I shall be delighted to see her there.
Professor Vaidere was a particular star of the European Energy Forum, where I have been active for a number of years, and we need her back. Too many of those MEPs who were sound on energy issues have either stood down, or failed to be re-elected.
Inese very kindly invited me down for a visit to her farmhouse in rural Latvia, near the town of Livani, and I spent time with her family — including her nine-year old grandson who is already a star wind-surfer. They have a sauna set up at the bottom of the garden, and we did the full routine — heating up in the steam room, then plunging into the rather cool river which is conveniently placed nearby.
Latvians are watching developments in Ukraine with some concern. Like Ukraine, they have a border with Russia. Like Ukraine, they were formerly in the USSR. And like Ukraine, they too have a very significant Russian minority population. But unlike Ukraine, they are members of NATO, and have a joint security guarantee. I believe that this should give Latvia (and the other Baltic states) very considerable confidence.
But the main focus of my trip to Riga was the Opera House. I have been there a number of times, and never cease to be amazed, on the one hand by the quality of the performances, and on the other by the price of the tickets, which was around €20 for a good seat. A similar seat in London would be well into three figures.
On the Sunday of my arrival I saw a ballet. And on the Wednesday, they were doing my favourite opera, Traviata. It was magnificent. No matter how many times I see it, it remains intensely moving, and by the end, as Violetta dies of consumption, I daresay there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. I actually managed to arrange a very brief photo-op before the show with the star, . Sonora Vaice who sang the part of Violetta. Sonora is Latvian, and is a highly regarded soprano on the continental opera circuit.
If you love opera, then Riga is a great place to go. In fact it’s a delightful city to visit even if opera is not your thing. I recommend it (and before the trolls ask the question, No, I have not been given a brown envelope stuffed with money by the Latvian Tourist Board).
For ladies with a keen interest in fashion, I append a full length picture of Sonora’s gown.
You can see more pictures from my visit to Riga on my website