Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

European premiere of Unsuk Chin’s Le Chant des enfants des étoiles, with works by Biber and Beethoven

Excellent programming: worthy of Boulez, if hardly for the literal minded. (‘I think you’ll find [stroking chin] Beethoven didn’t know Unsuk Chin’s music, or Heinrich Biber’s. So … what are they doing together then? And … AND … why don’t you use period instruments? I rest my case!’)

Rising Stars in Concert 2018 at Lyric Opera of Chicago

On a recent weekend evening the performers in the current roster of the Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center at Lyric Opera of Chicago presented a concert of operatic selections showcasing their musical talents. The Lyric Opera Orchestra accompanied the performers and was conducted by Edwin Outwater.

Arizona Opera Presents a Glittering Rheingold

On April 6, 2018, Arizona Opera presented an uncut performance of Richard Wagner’s Das Rheingold. It was the first time in two decades that this company had staged a Ring opera.

Handel's Teseo brings 2018 London Handel Festival to a close

The 2018 London Handel Festival drew to a close with this vibrant and youthful performance (the second of two) at St George’s Church, Hanover Square, of Handel’s Teseo - the composer’s third opera for London after Rinaldo (1711) and Il pastor fido (1712), which was performed at least thirteen times between January and May 1713.

Camille Saint-Saens: Mélodies avec orchestra

Saint-Saëns Mélodies avec orchestra with Yann Beuron and Tassis Christoyannis with the Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana conducted by Markus Poschner.

The Moderate Soprano

The Moderate Soprano and the story of Glyndebourne: love, opera and Nazism in David Hare’s moving play

The Spirit of England: the BBCSO mark the centenary of the end of the Great War

Well, it was Friday 13th. I returned home from this moving and inspiring British-themed concert at the Barbican Hall in which the BBC Symphony Orchestra and conductor Sir Andrew Davis had marked the centenary of the end of World War I, to turn on my lap-top and discover that the British Prime Minister had authorised UK armed forces to participate with French and US forces in attacks on Syrian chemical weapon sites.

Thomas Adès conducts Stravinsky's Perséphone at the Royal Festival Hall

This seemed a timely moment for a performance of Stravinsky’s choral ballet, Perséphone. April, Eliot’s ‘cruellest month’, has brought rather too many of Chaucer’s ‘sweet showers [to] pierce the ‘drought of March to the root’, but as the weather finally begins to warms and nature stirs, what better than the classical myth of the eponymous goddess’s rape by Pluto and subsequent rescue from Hades, begetting the eternal rotation of the seasons, to reassure us that winter is indeed over and the spirit of spring is engendering the earth.

Dido and Aeneas: La Nuova Musica at Wigmore Hall

This performance of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas by La Nuova Musica, directed by David Bates, was, characteristically for this ensemble, alert to musical details, vividly etched and imaginatively conceived.

Bernstein's MASS at the Royal Festival Hall

In 1969, Mrs Aristotle Onassis commissioned a major composition to celebrate the opening of a new arts centre in Washington, DC - the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, named after her late husband, President John F. Kennedy, who had been assassinated six years earlier.

Hans Werner Henze : The Raft of the Medusa, Amsterdam

This is a landmark production of Hans Werner Henze's Das Floß der Medusa (The Raft of the Medusa) conducted by Ingo Metzmacher in Amsterdam earlier this month, with Dale Duesing (Charon), Bo Skovhus and Lenneke Ruiten, with Cappella Amsterdam, the Nieuw Amsterdams Kinderen Jeugdkoor, and the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra, in a powerfully perceptive staging by Romeo Castellucci.

Johann Sebastian Bach, St John Passion, BWV 245

This was the first time, I think, since having moved to London that I had attended a Bach Passion performance on Good Friday here.

Easter Voices, including mass settings by Mozart and Stravinsky

It was a little early, perhaps, to be hearing ‘Easter Voices’ in the middle of Holy Week. However, this was not especially an Easter programme – and, in any case, included two pieces from Gesualdo’s Tenebrae responsories for Good Friday. Given the continued vileness of the weather, a little foreshadowing of something warmer was in any case most welcome. (Yes, I know: I should hang my head in Lenten shame.)

Academy of Ancient Music: St John Passion at the Barbican Hall

‘In order to preserve the good order in the Churches, so arrange the music that it shall not last too long, and shall be of such nature as not to make an operatic impression, but rather incite the listeners to devotion.’

Fiona Shaw's The Marriage of Figaro returns to the London Coliseum

The white walls of designer Peter McKintosh’s Ikea-maze are still spinning, the ox-skulls are still louring, and the servants are still eavesdropping, as Fiona Shaw’s 2011 production of The Marriage of Figaro returns to English National Opera for its second revival. Or, perhaps one should say that the servants are still sleeping - slumped in corridors, snoozing in chairs, snuggled under work-tables - for at times this did seem a rather soporific Figaro under Martyn Brabbins’ baton.

Lenten Choral Music from the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge

Time was I could hear the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge almost any evening I chose, at least during term time. (If I remember correctly, Mondays were reserved for the mixed voice King’s Voices.)

A New Faust at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago’s innovative, new production of Charles Gounod’s Faust succeeds on multiple levels of musical and dramatic representation. The title role is sung by Benjamin Bernheim, his companion in adventure Méphistophélès is performed by Christian Van Horn.

Netrebko rules at the ROH in revival of Phyllida Lloyd's Macbeth

Shakespeare’s Macbeth is a play of the night: of dark interiors and shadowy forests. ‘Light thickens, and the crow/Makes wing to th’ rooky wood,’ says Macbeth, welcoming the darkness which, whether literal or figurative, is thrillingly and threateningly palpable.

San Diego’s Ravishing Florencia

Daniel Catán’s widely celebrated opera, Florencia en el Amazonas received a top tier production at the wholly rejuvenated San Diego Opera company.

Samantha Hankey wins Glyndebourne Opera Cup

Four singers were awarded prizes at the inaugural Glyndebourne Opera Cup, which reached its closing stage at Glyndebourne on 24th March. The Glyndebourne Opera Cup focuses on a different single composer or strand of the repertoire each time it is held. In 2018 the featured composer was Mozart and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment accompanied the ten finalists.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Ondine ODV4008
12 Oct 2011

Sallinen’s The Red Line at Finnish National Opera, 2008

Some opera masterworks are admirable more than lovable — a distinction usually best revealed by the number of performances the work gets.

Aulis Sallinen: The Red Line

Topi: Jorma Hynninen; Riika: Päivi Nisula; Sake: Tuomo Nisula; Raakeli: Sanni Vilmi; Iita-Linta Maria: Olivia Ainali; Puntarpää: Aki Alamikkotervo; Simana Arhippaini: Hannu Forsberg; Vicar: Pertti Mäkelä; Young Priest: Tuomas Tuloisela; Kaisa: Anna-Lisa Jakobsson; Raappana: Taisto Reimaluoto; Kunilla: Rea Mauranen; Epra: Ari Grönthal; Jussi: Marko Puustinen; Tiina: Leena Liimatainen; Constable Pirhonen: Kai Valtonen; Fate: Jarmo Rastas. Tsuumi Dance Company. Finnish National Opera Chorus and Orchestra. Mikko Franck, conductor. Pekka Milonoff, stage director. Eeva Ijäs, set design. Erika Turunen, costume design. Juha Westman, lighting design. Ari Numminen, choreographer. Recorded live from the Finnish National Opera, 2009.

Ondine ODV4008 [DVD]

$26.99  Click to buy

Wozzeck is widely admired, but the typical American opera company will program La Boheme every few seasons, and maybe once a decade stage Berg’s masterpiece.

Aulis Sallinen’s The Red Line prompts much admiration as well. Premiered in 1978, the work combines both serious subject matter and a score that expertly walks that fine line between hard-core modernism and more “accessible” material. It’s easy to see why the Finnish National Opera would stage a major revival in 2008 — not least because the source material (a novel of the same name by Ilmari Kanto) centers on a major episode from Finnish national history.

Topi is a peasant, in all senses of the word — a man at the lower socio-economic end, striving to provide for his family, with a fierce will but earthy weaknesses. He and his wife Rikka have three children, and in tough economic times, they are finding it hard to keep them properly fed. Soon word comes that the vote is coming, and not only for men — but also for women. Political agitators tout this development as the key to improving living conditions for men like Topi and their families. The vote is to be cast by marking a “red line” on a ballot. But Topi can’t wait for a vote — one child is ailing. He goes to the Church for help, but any assistance is too little, too late, and the child dies. At opera’s end, the side supposedly representing Topi’s interests has indeed won a major election, but it matters little to Topi. A bear that had threatened his livelihood at the beginning of the opera reappears, and Topi rashly rushes to chase it off — only to end up its victim, a “red line” drawn across his throat. And his widow is left to care for the remaining children.

The libretto manages to be a social and political tract without feeling heavy-handed, at least as staged by director Pekka Milonoff. Eeva Ijäs’s simple, effective sets and the naturalistic costumes of Erika Turunen provide a sense of time and place, and an expert cast performs with affecting simplicity and commitment. A hard-core Marxist would be displeased that Topi is not elevated to heroic stature, and a hard-core reactionary would bemoan the critical depictions of the Church and the established ruling class. Sympathy is aroused for its forlorn protagonist, but we can also see where his own choices have contributed to his predicament.

Despite many powerful moments, the narrative doesn’t build, and the bear sections are too crudely symbolic. Although not a long opera, the first act drags, and a more compact structure might have had greater impact.

Sallinen’s score has many remarkable passages, weaving folk material, marches, and arias into a complex fabric. Conductor Mikko Franck and the Finnish National Opera Orchestra keep the tension high, but the handsome hall must have fine acoustics, as the singers are never swamped.

Sallinen couldn’t hope for a better Topi than that of Jorma Hyannin — the hang-dog expression on his handsome face capturing a lifetime of deprivation and struggle, but the fire in his eyes is unquenched (until the end). Päiva Nisula is his wife, larger than one might expect in a story about poverty, but that actually corresponds to reality, in many cases. She is just this side of caricature — hearty and strong, loving of her husband but prone to nagging. In a large supporting cast, Aki Alamikkotervo’s Agitator stands out for capturing the tunnel-visioned fervor of a politically driven man.

Ondine provides four separate filmed interviews as bonus features — with the composer, director, conductor, and star. Technically austere, the interviews don’t cover much interesting territory, with the exception of that with composer Sallinen. He is mordant and perceptive, and your reviewer will probably never forget one choice phrase of his, a reference to “man’s bottomless narcissism.”

The Red Line, some three decades on, does not look poised to join the standard opera repertory, but Sallinen is most fortunate to have this document for posterity, a recording of a fine performance of his admirable — if not exactly loveable — opera.

Chris Mullins

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):