Notes and Editorial Reviews
On its surface this concise, 97-minute opera may not seem like much of a gripping tale: it concerns the poet Aleksis Kivi (né Aleksis Stenvall, 1834-72), who was the founder of literature in the Finnish language. At the time he was writing, Swedish still was the "proper" language among Finns with any intellectual pretensions; Johan Ludvig Runeberg was the country's most famous poet and writer and he wrote in Swedish. The very powerful teacher/poet August Ahlqvist condemned Kivi's writing (Kivi means "stone" in Finnish; "Stenvall" is Swedish for "stone wall") as morally reprehensible, saying that characters in literature should be idealized, not
presented as they really are. Ahlqvist's moralizing and condemnation of Kivi eventually drove the already fragile young Finn to madness; he died insane at age 38. This opera is that story.
Rautavaara scores the work for string orchestra, synthesizer, percussion, and two clarinets, and the writing always is graceful and supportive of the voice. When Kivi (or one of his friends/disciples) is reciting (singing) one of Kivi's poems, it's positively lyrical. Indeed, the scenes with the young, still-idealistic Kivi, his patron Charlotte, and his student Hilda are lovely. A rowdy students' drinking song in Act 2 is as honest and convincing as those in Le damnation de Faust or Tales of Hoffmann. When there is chaos--either mental or actual, as when the mature Kivi is being denounced--the instrumental complement becomes raucous. The clarinets are used brilliantly, from their mellowest depths to a klezmer-like frenzy. When Kivi's mind finally collapses entirely at the close of the third act, the music dissolves into a lunatic cacophony. To call this opera "accessible" is to sell it short; within five minutes we actually care about Kivi, and the music draws us in as well.
The role of the pedant Ahlqvist is given to a speaker, and his tone is never less than arrogant, angry, and hectoring. We hate him and his narrow mind and attitude from the start. The young Kivi and the older, embittered, half mad, and then completely mad Kivi are sung by two different baritones. Jorma Hynninen sings the latter, Gabriel Suovanen the former. Hynninen's voice is drier than previously, but his artistry remains supreme. His singing of the final, beautiful song is as artful and touching as anything you'll hear for some time. Suovanen sounds remarkably like him; his music is more fluid and his cantilena easier, and he, too, is wonderfully expressive.
Lasse Pöysti's Ahlqvist is a study in demonic exclamation--brilliantly spoken. Marcus Groth's half-screamed Runeberg is an amazing indictment. Eeva-Liisa Saarinen as Charlotte, Kivi's patron (who also loves him), is sympathetic and more; her gentleness in their encounters is touching. As the younger student Hilda, Helena Juntunen is fine in a thankless, underdeveloped role. The remainder of the cast is superb and the recorded sound is all you could ask for. Anyone interested in contemporary music-theatre should hear this finely crafted and often lovely work. [11/16/2002]
--Robert Levine, ClassicsToday.com Read less
Works on This Recording
Aleksis Kivi by Einojuhani Rautavaara
Eeva-Liisa Saarinen (Mezzo Soprano),
Marcus Groth (Baritone),
Jorma Hynninen (Baritone),
Lasse Pöysti (Spoken Vocals),
Helena Juntunen (Soprano),
Jaakko Hietikko (Bass),
Gabriel Suovanen (Baritone),
Lassi Virtanen (Tenor),
Peter Nordman (Baritone),
Jussi Miilunpalo (Tenor),
Hannu Ilmolahti (Bass),
Jeremias Erkkilä (Tenor)
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1995-1996; Finland
Date of Recording: 04/2002
Venue: Suolahti Hall, Lahti, Finland
Length: 97 Minutes 46 Secs.
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