John F wrote:when the Finnish National Opera brought Sallinen's "The Red Line" and Kokkonen's "The Last Temptations" to the Met. Stunning, to find a large and important body of work in one of the places I would least have expected it
I sure never heard of those 2 and also never heard of Rautaavaara-just listened to his symphonies 7 and 8-nice! Thank goodness for you tube! Regards, Len
A HOME-GROWN COMPANY FROM HELSINKI VISITS THE MET
By PHYLLIS ELLEN FUNKE; Phyllis Ellen Funke is a freelance writer.
Published: April 24, 1983
At home in Helsinki, the Finnish National Opera occupies a veritable bandbox of a theater. Built for Russian soldiers once garrisoned in the city, the Victorian lemon-with-white-trim house seats only about 550, suffers an orchestra pit that holds fewer than 50, and possesses a stage too small to accommodate Wagner properly.
Yet, because the work being done there is considered genuinely impressive, the company, on Tuesday night, will make its debut on this side of the Atlantic - and at the Metropolitan Opera House at that.
On this occasion, the Finns will be performing in a house that holds at least seven times the number theirs does. And, what is more, their appearance marks the first time in the Metropolitan Opera's 100-year-old history that the Met itself has invited another opera company to perform under its auspices.
But, probably, the most astonishing aspect of this event is the fact that, though Finland is a rather isolated, rural and sparsely populated country of fewer than five million, everything attending the Finns' forthcoming presentation is Finnish.
That is, not only are the directors, designers, musicians and conductors Finnish. So, too, are the singers -among them, such internationally acclaimed names as Martti Talvela, the bass renowned for his portrayal at the Met and elsewhere of ''Boris Godunov;'' Matti Salminen, also a bass, who scored at the Met as King Marke in ''Tristan and Isolde;'' and Jorma Hynninen, a dramatic baritone currently stirring critical excitement here with his recitals. Above all, however, the operas, too, are Finnish - and contemporary -with the 61-year-old Joonas Kokkonen's ''The Last Temptations'' scheduled for opening night and Friday; and the 48-year-old Aulis Sallinen's ''The Red Line'' being given Wednesday and Saturday, the scale of both productions being increased proportionately in terms of scenery and chorus to fit the Met. (On Thursday, the company will perform a concert of vocal and orchestral works by Finland's best-known composer, Sibelius.) In fact, both contemporary operas boast librettos in Finnish - a good language for singing because of its many vowels. And both also derive from Finnish source material inspired by not-so-ancient historical situations played out against the harshness of backwoods frontier life in this Nordic country, a third of which lies above the Arctic Circle. ''The Last Temptations'' has been fashioned from a play by the composer's cousin, Lauri Kokkonen, about the Finnish revivalist preacher, Paavo Ruotsalinen, who lived from 1777 until 1852 and who, at a time when Finnish churchmen were finally being influenced by the ideas of the Enlightenment, stomped the untamed Finnish countryside preaching an old-fashioned fundamentalist faith. In the opera, Paavo, by his own admission, a prickly personality, is dying, and, through flashbacks, reviews his past, trying to make peace with the injustices and unkindnesses he committed while leading a life of dogmatic conviction. In ''The Red Line,'' based on a novel of the same name by Ilmari Kianto, and set during Finland's first general election in 1907, a poverty-stricken crofter and his family are pitted against the ravages of Nature. Unable to eke out a living, they are encouraged to look for help through politics, and draw a red line on the ballot for social democracy. But not even universal suffrage can save them from starvation and the forces of nature, as represented by a great bear which rips the crofter's throat - also in a red line. Having been hailed in their homeland - with ''The Last Temptations'' receiving nearly 200 performances since its premiere in 1975, and ''The Red Line,'' nearly 100 since its bow in 1978 - the operas have been trouped from England to Russia. In Western Europe, their appearance, on a relatively quiescent opera scene, has done much to thrust Finnish opera - and the Finnish identity - into mainstream Continental cultural consciousness. Indeed, in London, ''The Red Line'' spurred Covent Garden and the British Broadcasting Corporation to join with Finland's Savonlinna Opera Festival in commissioning another opera from Mr. Sallinen. Yet, though ''The Last Temptations'' and ''The Red Line'' have been dubbed ''the flagships of the Finnish operatic fleet,'' they represent only a fraction of the recent activity in the Finnish opera world. There, following a century that yielded only two works of continuing interest - Leevi Madetoja's ''The Ostrobothnians,'' considered Finland's national opera, and Aarre Merikanto's ''Juha'' - the last decade or so has witnessed the creation of about 20 operas, of which 12 were commissioned and produced by the Finnish National Opera. Just what accounts for this upsurge is difficult to pinpoint. There are those who feel that a most fortuitous convergence of events in the early 1970's may have been subtly responsible for the kindling of interest in opera both on the part of the public as well as the composers: the arrival of Martti Talvela to take charge of the somewhat moribund Savonlinna Opera Festival held annually in the summer, and Juhani Raiskinen's assumption of leadership of the Finnish National Opera. Both men, in undertaking their assignments, were imbued with the idea of broadening the appeal of their respective operations; of creating a wider popular acceptance. Mr. Talvela set out to present opera on a grander scale than had previously been prevalent in the country. Mr. Raiskinen was determined to revolutionize operational procedures at the National Opera itself, dispensing with foreign directors who had been working with the company and whom he considered mediocre, and in their place, hiring directors from the healthily patronized Finnish theater. One result was the company's much-touted ensemble style.
Mr. Raiskenin has some thoughts of his own on the current outpouring. He attributes it to ''weltgeist'' - world spirit - or, more simply, to luck. In broad perspective, he believes that this record has resulted from the course of Finland's national development. Locked between the Baltic and the Soviet Union, and fought over for centuries by Sweden and Russia, Finland displayed its first significant signs of national awareness only in the mid-19th century, and gained its bitterly fought for, tenaciously clung to independence-through-neutrality only in 1917. Consequently, Mr. Raiskinen says, ''the Finnish people culturally do not have such a big tradition as the Swedes, Germans, Russians or English. In fact, it is said that we climbed down from the trees 200 years later than the Swedes. But I think others have lost something that we still have - a sense of earth, of dirt, between our toes. In sophisticated European centers, there is now a turn back to nature. But in Finland, we have not gone so far from it. We are not yet overbred, sophisticated or estheticized. Because we came down from the trees so late, we can still be sort of natural. And creating opera is something that needs to come from the gut.'' Though schooled as a pianist and conductor, the 45-year-old Mr. Raiskinen's directorial career had been in the theater, where he was the first in Europe outside London to stage ''West Side Story.'' He wanted to erase the elitist aura surrounding opera because, he says, ''If the Finnish people don't care about Finnish opera, who else will?''
But he was limited, both by the size of the opera house, and a budget which, in 1984, was 44 million Finnish marks (about $9 million), 20 percent of which came from the sale of tickets priced between 15 and 60 marks ($5 to $12), and the remainder, from the city of Helsinki and various government-sponsored lotteries. Nevertheless, Mr. Raiskinen had a strategy.
When he took charge of the 350-man Finnish National Opera organization - which also includes a ballet company - 40 different programs were being presented during its 10-month season of about 230 performances. Mr. Raiskinen cut this number in half, thus increasing not only the number of seats available for each production, but also the rehearsal time. These extra hours were used to improve production values.
Commenting on the company's ensemble style, Mr. Raiskinen says, ''We really are a poor man's opera, so we have no choice. We haven't the money to hire foreign stars nor the capacity to create huge effects. So we make up for this lack by showing more art through the essentials - the playing. We work as a team. There is no 'I am the most beautiful' Cassius Clay stuff with the company. No one is trying to sing the highest or make the most goals. Instead, the performers serve to each other, playing ball together.''
These performers are another factor in the Finnish opera's success story. For years, Finland has been producing world-class singers, from Aino Ackte, who sang at the Met at the beginning of the century, to the more contemporary Kim Borg and Tom Krause. Martti Talvela attributes this phenomenon to the quality of Finland's music education system, while Mr. Raiskinen credits, only half in jest, ''all that oxygen in our woods.'' Regardless, the country has so many fine homegrown voices that it not only easily staffs its opera, but also exports half its vocal talent. Thus, says Mr. Raiskinen, reputations are produced that young singers seek to emulate, and idols are created whom audiences hurry to hear when the idols return home.
There would be no boom in Finnish opera, however, without composers. ''We do have some good ones,'' says Mr. Raiskinen, ''and now they dare make music. You see,'' he explains, ''Sibelius killed two generations of composers after him. He was so eminent that younger composers tried to avoid all aspects of him, turning to the avant-garde totally in their rebellion. But now, once again, instead of fashionably avoiding all intervals that are natural and embracing anti-music, composers are daring to go back to Sibelius, to ape him, to write melody. And what is opera without melody?''
The works of Mr. Kokkonen and Mr. Sallinen (who, prior to ''The Red Line,'' composed ''The Horseman'' for Savonlinna) have been described as having been influenced by Verdi, Mussorgsky and Janacek. The popularity of these, as well as other new Finnish operas, has also been helped by subject matter that democratically deals not with nobility and fairytales, but with real people and aspects of the Finnish past. This involves viewers, instead of merely entertaining them, at a time when, according to Mr. Raiskinen, Finns, increasingly concerned with improving the quality of their lives, are turning more to the arts.
Furthermore, these operas are said to be infused with a quality, however intangible, that makes them inherently Finnish. ''Existing between East and West, being ping-ponged about,'' says Mr. Raiskinen, ''gives us a very special character.'' Mr. Talvela, for whom the lead in ''The Last Temptations'' was written, says, ''We are very alone in this world and have the power to be alone and all our works come from this background. Our operas are Finnish the way Verdi's are Italian, Wagner's and German and Mussorgsky's are Russian. And if they are great enough, they, too, will become international.''
Their voyage to the Met is one testament to a belief in their universality. When approached by Ritva-Liisa Elomaa, the Finish Consulate's cultural counseler in New York, Jane Hermann, the Met's director of presentations, was skeptical. But encouraged by Joan Ingpen, the Met's assistant manager, both - primarily out of curiosity - went to Helsinki. ''I didn't read the librettos,'' says Mrs. Hermann, ''because I wanted to know how accessible the operas would be without them, and if I could cry, as I did, at the end of 'The Red Line.' '' Since she was amazed that ''lyric opera could be written in cold, Nordic, little Finland,'' and was excited by ''the wonderful music, the unbelievable ensemble,'' the invitation was issued.
Naturally, the company was thrilled. But to Mr. Raiskinen, this debut appearance has greater importance than the attainment of major international recognition. Recently, after years of foot-dragging, the Finnish government approved plans to begin construction, in 1988, of a new -and larger - opera house. And Mr. Raiskinen views success in New York as an excellent prod to keep the project on schedule.
http://www.nytimes.com/1983/04/24/arts/ ... wanted=all