Last Thursday was the seventh and last performance of the new opera, The Hour of the Serpent, by Mikko Heiniö. The libretto by Juha Siltanen, based on a short story by Lars Huldén, is somewhat convoluted. I was nearly horrified when it was compared to Paavo Haavikko's libretti last summer. Opera libretti should be simple in plot and repetitive in text; the music can then be as complex as anyone could wish for, although I do prefer a certain simplicity also there. Fortunately I was spared the paradoxical aphorisms I had feared. Still, it was a bit literary for my taste, especially the first act. Comedy and psychoanalysis don't sit well with a basically serious theme in the opera format. Fortunately the comical effects were intentional, although at times too crude.

However, there is something of the fin de siècle atmosphere there, in spite of the "average contemporary" music, which I wouldn't describe as "voluptuously rich", as claimed by the Opera website. Rich it may be, but voluptuous? Where is the passion and fervour promised by advertising? Not in the music as far as I can see it. It's too intellectual for me; decent, but I wouldn't be interested to listen to it on its own. I did like the Esplanadi Park scene, though. Comparing The Hour of the Serpent with Kaija Saariaho's L'Amour de Loin, which I saw two years ago (directed by Peter Sellars, with Dawn Upshaw, Monica Groop and Gerald Finley), I definitely prefer the latter. On the other hand, I like it better than the ever-popular The Red Line by Aulis Sallinen coming again next March.

Originally the leading role was written for Karita Mattila, but for some reason she refused it, and sang Tosca instead earlier this autumn. However, Päivi Nisula sang well enough, although she does not have the charisma or the looks for an adored muse, unlike La Karita.

As I was leaving I heard someone wishing to see the opera again. Ultimately, not an unreasonable wish, although I think it would be easy to parody "The 2½ Hours of the Worm". To paraphrase Paavo Haavikko, it does it itself. However, the more I think of it, the better I like it.