perjantai, 8. maaliskuu 2024

Dracula: A Happy Surprise

My expectations yesterday were low to start with, and as the review in Helsingin Sanomat had been mildly put unenthusiastic, they got even lower, especially as the two previous ballets last autumn - both Messa da Requiem and A Christmas Carol were OK as such - didn't really inspire me. What a mistake! Dracula captivated me from the first second! And after that there wasn't a dull moment. To judge from the applause the rest of the audience thought the same.

The audience was, by the way, a little different from the usual. I must have seen enough black lace yesterday to last for decades.

Apparently the HS reviewer Jukka O. Miettinen was unfamiliar with the subject as he was confused and had to spend much time reading the synopsis. I found the ballet clearer than the novel it is based on. The one thing we agree about is that Atte Kilpinen as Renfrew was remarkable. Otherwise the cast I saw was different from the one mentioned in the review, but good. The switches between the "old" and "young" Dracula were neat. Also I'd like to mention the tango Dracula danced with Jonathan Harker in the castle. It might have been comical, but it steered well clear of that.

Some basic facts: Choreography is by Krzysztof Pastor, music by Wojciech Kilar, and libretto by Pawel Chynowski. The ballet was originally made for West Australian Ballet in 2018, and the production is rented from the Polish National Ballet. And of course it is based on Bram Stoker's novel and Francis Ford Coppola's film.

perjantai, 6. lokakuu 2023

Don Giovanni Live



This production of Don Giovanni had its premiere in winter 2020, but before I had a chance to see it, Covid happened, and everything closed down. They did show it online at Stage24 (recording still to be seen until Dec. 23) and it made a good impression on me, so I was looking forward to seeing it live yesterday. To start with I was disappointed. Somehow it seemed much cruder, especially the "humour" was tiresome, nor was the singing what I had expected, especially in the beginning. Of course the cast was mostly new, as was the conductor Hannu Lintu, only Don Giovanni (Tuomas Pursio) and The Commandant (Koit Soasepp) were the same as in 2020. Of the others Mihails Čulpajevs as Don Ottavio was by far the best. Fortunately the performance improved towards the end, and I went home happy. But all this is old news, and I don't really have anything more to say.

Added later: I might have mentioned the only original idea: that The Commandant came to visit as a dead body stolen from the morgue by the avengers and spoke through a ghetto blaster. 

tiistai, 18. huhtikuu 2023


Siegfried has had excellent reviews, and for a good reason. It is brilliant, although I must admit I yawned a few times during the last act - but that was all Wagner's fault. Another slight fault in my eyes are the Wanderer's overtones of a Buddhist monk - a bit cringy, but on the other hand not totally without a point.

Due to illness Tommi Hakala did not sing the Wanderer's part, but his replacement, Tomasz Konieczny, was magnificent. I had goosebumps whenever he was singing, especially in the first act. All the singers were good, as was the orchestra led by Hannu Lintu. The first act is set in a "forest" of rusty pillars, with Mime's smithy in a camper van surrounded by oil drums and gym equipment. The second act is more abstract with narrow structures lit from the inside, where the dragon lives. The dragon is visible only in video, with Fafner's face when he is speaking and as a snake when he moves. Quite impressive, especially when I remember the ridiculous papier mâché dragon from the previous Siegfried at Töölö Bay. In the third act the abstraction increases further and there is hardly anything except mountain tops and fire, and the two innocents singing interminably.

If I were a fundamentalist Asa believer I might find this drivel called the Ring offensive, but as I am not, I realize these characters have nothing to do with their mythological and semi-historical counterparts, and it is best to forget the Eddas, Völsungasaga and particularly the Nibelungenlied. It is all Wagner's own psychology and philosophy. The Nazi elite assembling in Bayreuth were ridiculous. They can't have understood anything.

tiistai, 14. maaliskuu 2023

Two Raymondas

Last week I went to see the ballet Raymonda (music of course by Alexandr Glazunov) in the firm belief that I had never seen it before. However, I discovered that it had been performed in the very same house in 2003, so I must have seen it then. Exploring the matter further I found out that Minna Tervamäki had been in the role of Raymonda, and it sort of faintly seemed to ring a bell. I read also that it was a cooperation with the American Ballet Theater and had a more traditional setting than this new one set in the Crimean War, a cooperation with the English National Ballet with a choreography by Tamara Rojo (based on Petipa's original choreography). Twenty years ago the cast was mainly Finnish, now almost the only Finn with a role was Frans Valkama as Berengar (he was on stage also 20 years ago). The dancers, especially men, were probably better now than then, but will there ever be good Finnish dancers - as Minna Tervamäki was in her day - if they don't get a chance to perform in a significant role? But they were all excellent; I'll just to mention the first three: Abigail Sheppard (Raymonda), Francesco Gabriele Frola (John de Bryan) and Giulio Diligente (Abdur Rahman).

Anyhow, the idea of setting the events in the Crimean War is an brilliant idea, although it felt a bit awkward with the actual war so close to the region. The Spanish, Hungarian and such dances were also slightly comical in the context, although probably less anachronistic than they would have been in the original crusades setting. I also very much doubt there were entertainment tours in the real Crimean War. But basically the idea was splendid and was executed in a very satisfying manner.

perjantai, 3. helmikuu 2023

I loved Turandot


My first opera of the year was Turandot, a co-production with Malmö Opera, which has received varied reviews in the newspapers. Helsingin Sanomat writes of it being of orientalistic prettiness, conventional and static, but having good singers, while Hufvudstadsbladet says it is excellent although a bit static, and the provincial Etelä-Suomen Sanomat thinks that it is visually lovely, even though the singers could have been better.

Meanwhile the director Sofia Adrian Jupither says: "--- Traditionally Turandot has featured dated gender roles, misogyny, and racist stereotypes. It is particularly important for the future of the entire opera art form that these problematic themes are discussed, as that is the only way we can make a difference to them. Together with the creative team we have aimed to remove all the dated layers of the performance tradition from our production. This approach to Turandot is our humble attempt to find ways of making central works of operatic history viable the modern day." Astonishing. I could see no trace of these thoughts in the performance, which probably would have delighted the audience of the first performance of Turandot in the Helsinki of 1929. If one wants to remove dated layers, why set it in a very decorative fairytale China of the past? A different time and place could have been possible, and apparently such productions also exist.

Either way, I enjoyed it far beyond my expectations, which admittedly were not very high as the long past Turandot of my memories was bland and thin. However, this was the opposite, rich and full. Strangely enough, my eyelids started drooping after Liù's death. Surely it can't have been the change in composer? But all in all, it was a very enjoyable experience that I would not mind repeating.