Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

Two song cycles by Sir Arthur Somervell: Roderick Williams and Susie Allan

Robert Browning, Lord Alfred Tennyson, Charles Kingsley, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, A.E. Housman … the list of those whose work Sir Arthur Somervell (1863-1937) set to music, in his five song-cycles, reads like a roll call of Victorian poetry - excepting the Edwardian Housman.

Roger Quilter: The Complete Quilter Songbook, Vol. 3

Mark Stone and Stephen Barlow present Volume 3 in their series The Complete Roger Quilter Songbook, on Stone Records.

Richard Danielpour – The Passion of Yeshua

A contemporary telling of the Passion story which uses texts from both the Christian and the Jewish traditions to create a very different viewpoint.

Les Talens Lyriques: 18th-century Neapolitan sacred works

In 1770, during an extended tour of France and Italy to observe the ‘present state of music’ in those two countries, the English historian, critic and composer Charles Burney spent a month in Naples - a city which he noted (in The Present State of Music in France and Italy (1771)) ‘has so long been regarded as the centre of harmony, and the fountain from whence genius, taste, and learning, have flowed to every other part of Europe.’

Herbert Howells: Missa Sabrinensis revealed in its true glory

At last, Herbert Howells’s Missa Sabrinensis (1954) with David Hill conducting the Bach Choir, with whom David Willcocks performed the piece at the Royal Festival Hall in 1982. Willcocks commissioned this Mass for the Three Choirs Festival in Worcester in 1954, when Howells himself conducted the premiere.

Natalya Romaniw - Arion: Voyage of a Slavic Soul

Sailing home to Corinth, bearing treasures won in a music competition, the mythic Greek bard, Arion, found his golden prize coveted by pirates and his life in danger.

Le Banquet Céleste: Stradella's San Giovanni Battista

The life of Alessandro Stradella was characterised by turbulence, adventure and amorous escapades worthy of an opera libretto. Indeed, at least seven composers have turned episodes from the 17th-century Italian composer’s colourful life into operatic form, the best known being Flotow whose three-act comic opera based on the Lothario’s misadventures was first staged in Hamburg in 1844.

Purcell’s The Indian Queen from Lille

Among the few compensations opera lovers have had from the COVID crisis is the abundance – alas, plethora – of streamed opera productions we might never have seen or even known of without it.

Ethel Smyth: Songs and Ballads - a new recording from SOMM

In 1877, Ethel Smyth, aged just nineteen, travelled to Leipzig to begin her studies at the German town’s Music Conservatory, having finally worn down the resistance of her father, General J.H. Smyth.

Wagner: Excerpts from Der Ring des Niebelungen, NHK Symphony Orchestra, Paavo Järvi, RCA-Sony

This new recording of excerpts from Wagner’s Der Ring des Niebelungen is quite exceptional - and very unusual for this kind of disc. The words might be missing, but the fact they are proves to have rather the opposite effect. It is one of the most operatic of orchestral Wagner discs I have come across.

Wagner: Die Walküre, Symphonieorchester Des Bayerischen Rundfunks, Simon Rattle, BR Klassik

Simon Rattle has never particularly struck me as a complex conductor. He is not, for example, like Furtwängler, Maderna, Boulez or Sinopoli - all of whom brought a breadth of learning and a knowledge of composition to bear on what they conducted.

Dvořák Requiem, Jakub Hrůša in memoriam Jiří Bělohlávek

Antonín Dvořák Requiem op.89 (1890) with Jakub Hrůša conducting the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra. The Requiem was one of the last concerts Jiří Bělohlávek conducted before his death and he had been planning to record it as part of his outstanding series for Decca.

Philip Venables' Denis & Katya: teenage suicide and audience complicity

As an opera composer, Philip Venables writes works quite unlike those of many of his contemporaries. They may not even be operas at all, at least in the conventional sense - and Denis & Katya, the most recent of his two operas, moves even further away from this standard. But what Denis & Katya and his earlier work, 4.48 Psychosis, have in common is that they are both small, compact forces which spiral into extraordinarily powerful and explosive events.

A new, blank-canvas Figaro at English National Opera

Making his main stage debut at ENO with this new production of The Marriage of Figaro, theatre director Joe Hill-Gibbins professes to have found it difficult to ‘develop a conceptual framework for the production to inhabit’.

Massenet’s Chérubin charms at Royal Academy Opera

“Non so più cosa son, cosa faccio … Now I’m fire, now I’m ice, any woman makes me change colour, any woman makes me quiver.”

Bluebeard’s Castle, Munich

Last year the world’s opera companies presented only nine staged runs of Béla Bartòk’s Bluebeard’s Castle.

The Queen of Spades at Lyric Opera of Chicago

If obsession is key to understanding the dramatic and musical fabric of Tchaikovsky’s opera The Queen of Spades, the current production at Lyric Opera of Chicago succeeds admirably in portraying such aspects of the human psyche.

WNO revival of Carmen in Cardiff

Unveiled by Welsh National Opera last autumn, this Carmen is now in its first revival. Original director Jo Davies has abandoned picture postcard Spain and sun-drenched vistas for images of grey, urban squalor somewhere in modern-day Latin America.

Lise Davidsen 'rescues' Tobias Kratzer's Fidelio at the Royal Opera House

Making Fidelio - Beethoven’s paean to liberty, constancy and fidelity - an emblem of the republican spirit of the French Revolution is unproblematic, despite the opera's censor-driven ‘Spanish’ setting.

A sunny, insouciant Così from English Touring Opera

Beach balls and parasols. Strolls along the strand. Cocktails on the terrace. Laura Attridge’s new production of Così fan tutte which opened English Touring Opera’s 2020 spring tour at the Hackney Empire, is a sunny, insouciant and often downright silly affair.

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):