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Jorma Hynninen and Paivi Nisula star in this Finish National Opera performance of the Sallinen opera conducted by Mikko Franck and directed by Pekka Milonoff. Also included are interviews with Sallinen, Milonoff, Franck, and Hynninen.
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I am totally unfamiliar with Finnish opera, so I came into this work with very little knowledge of it or the composer. My usual sources had minimal information. But to Ondine's credit, the booklet contained in the dvd was very informative. It gave much-needed background on the work, its literary source, its performance history, and even musical analysis. This was perhaps the best booklet I've seen in an opera dvd set!
The story, based on a famous Finnish novel, is about the first public election in Finland's history in 1907. The opera itself, focuses on a family in rural Finland. Topi and his wife, Riika, live with their children in the harsh colder climes, beset by bad weather, hunger, and the elements (like the bear that, in the end, kills Topi). They just manage to get by. But they learn of the first real election, and, along with their neighbors, are confronted with political speakers- the communist agitator, and the Church spokesman, as well as their neighbor Kaisa, who speaks a grounded, rural truth. They are unable really to understand these political forces, but hope for a better life. After the election, suddenly, their children fall very ill and quietly die. (Though the cause of death is not explicitly stated, I interpreted it to be that they died of starvation.) After their death, there is a long musical interlude as they prepare for the funeral of the children that, for me, was the highlight of the work. In the end, at a loss after their death, Topi again chases the bear and is killed by it.
Jorma Hynninen is excellent as Topi. This is a signature role for him as he originated it in the first production in 1978 (and even took it to the Met!), and has performed it many times. He apparently has also done most other of the Sallinen operas. He is excellent, with a face that is just worn down by life's travails. Paivi Nisula is also excellent as Riika, the suffering wife/mother. In fact, all performers were excellent.
One thing to note in the production is the presence of "dancers" throughout the staging. They appear as "zombies" moving in and out of the action. It doesn't do anything for me,. But doesn't interfere with the story-telling. (Still, I'm not into zombies at all.)
The dvd is well produced- excellent filming and sound, and 40 minutes or so of interviews with Hynninen, conductor, composer and director, (but not a "making of" short).
For my first foray into Finnish opera, this was a real delight, and very moving. Don't miss it.
The pamphlet included with the DVD gives ample explanations on the plot, its source and the composer. Regrettably doesn't mention the director's realization of the plot, which is very interesting, although sometimes it is not easy to understand at first glance the symbolism the director introduced. Sallinen's music is poignant and works extremely well with the plot. I wouldn't say the opera is enjoyable, since the grim plot is nothing to be "enjoyed" but the message is there and it is a captivating and powerful one.
Don't miss the interviews in the extras. They certainly help for a much deeper understanding of this production. Having such a description in the pamphlet would have been very helpful. Strongly recommended