Helsinki World Premiere Week, 4 September 2017

This week we run headlong into the World Premiere of Autumn Sonata – a new opera by Finnish composer Sebastian Fagerlund, adapted from the film of Ingmar Bergman.  This is only Fagerlund’s second opera, but I doubt it will be his last.  Already a very appreciated and experienced composer for orchestra (currently Composer in Residence at the Concertgebouw Amsterdam), he has given us a score to match this fantastic drama.  At once powerful, full-scale, extreme in his use of grand gesture and sonic envelopment, he also excels in transparency, spaciousness and delicate micro-moments.  It is a singing actor’s dream, really.

Enough arcs to soar inside the swell of the full orchestra, as well as graspable moments to carve out color and breathlessness with both voice and emotion.

Add the stage direction of an extraordinary director, whose objective is to use each artist’s instruments of expression to their fullest.  Always asking for greater distillation of intention, more organic use of extreme emotion – but never against the nature of the ingredients at hand.  This is so important to me.  Sometimes one is asked to “perform” into reality some vision the director has in their head, and while the vision might be valid, it is not always in step with the instruments of expression available.  Stéphane Braunschweig not only understands and LOVES the material, he gives himself in service to the deepest aspects of the thematic psychology being expressed – looking for the universal humanity in them – rather than holding to a personal version of those themes.  In other words, the themes have been allowed to take on their own life as the rehearsals have progressed – As expressed through the voices and sensibilities of the artists at hand.

Playing the role of Eva is truly a gift.  She holds within her experience several of the great human and female experiences of great consequence:  the loss of motherly love, both received and given; the too early bereavement of a carefree childhood; the all too young realization that love is as much a function of the capacity to put selfishness aside, as it is intent or the presence of actual loving feeling.  And she is smart and self-aware enough to put words to her emotions, while still feeling them…  She neither disconnects from the core source of the pivoting moments in her life, nor from the accumulation of her pain and upset.  And yet, she is infinitely tender and holds a admiring loving attitude to those she deems blameless and deserving.   And both composer and director have given the tools necessary to embody this touching and heartbreaking human fate.

Don’t even get me started on my lovely and miraculously gifted and wonderful colleagues…

Anne Sofie von Otter, in a role that she will define forever (if this beautiful opera lives the long healthy life is deserves).  There is an air of grace and greatness you simply can’t fake, hide, or manipulate into being (a lesson for generations of opera stars in the making!!)   While her voice promises many more years of beauty and strength, hearing and seeing her in this greater than life character is an opportunity not to be missed!

Tommi Hakkala, bringing life to a character of difficult accessibility, bringing us under the skin of his heartbreak, beauty, and dignity.

Helena Juntonen, the “baby bird” of our dysfunctional family, soaring to vocal heights and piercing our souls with her anguished broken wings.

I am such a fortunate woman.