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19.8.04

Music in Finland

In the comments to this post on the Glimmerglass production of The Mines of Sulphur, Marja-Leena Rathje was thoughtful enough to mention her experiences at the Savonlinna Opera Festival in her native country, Finland. This prompted me to think about what has been happening in Finland, for at least the past few decades, in terms of performance of new operas and other new music, in relation to my class on Opera in the 20th Century. This year's festival, which concluded earlier this month, saw productions of Offenbach, Wagner, Puccini, Mascagni, Verdi, and Donizetti. Big deal, right? They also performed Rubinstein's Der Dämon, and there was a recital by soprano Karita Mattila of songs by Duparc, Saariaho, and Rachmaninov. Furthermore, they premiered a new opera by Jaakko Kuusisto, called The Canine Kalevala, with a libretto by Mauri Kunnas based on the Finnish national epic, the Kalevala (you can read it in an English translation by John Martin Crawford). It took the Finns a while to create their own national opera, but in 1898 Oskar Merikanto (1868-1924) completed the first opera in Finnish, Pohjan neiti (Maiden of the North), also based on the Kalevala. Since then, opera in Finland has kept growing, especially since the 1970s, so that now Finland is probably the leading country for the production of new operas. (You can read a lot more about the history of opera in Finland in Pekka Hako's article for Virtual Finland.)

Here are some related links to show what I mean:

Most of these new operas, which are in Finnish, of course, get zero play outside of Finland. Sadly, Finnish is one of those languages that few people have any reason to learn, and if you look at just one of the pages listed above in Finnish, you will surely agree that there is very little familiar to speakers of Indo-European languages (it is one of the Magyar Finno-Ugrian languages, related to Hungarian, among others). Perhaps the fame of Finnish opera will change that some day.

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