Muinainen Kalevala

Kalevala: The Opera

Premiere by Kymi Sinfonietta & Utopia Chamber Choir
15th February 2017 (Kotka) & 16th (Kouvola). 

Andrew Lawrence-King re-unites Finnish epic verse with traditional melodies from Karelia and Ingria, transforming Lönnrot's 1849 compilation into a 'medieval opera'. 

In the first performance at the 2012 Montalban medieval festival in Germany, The Harp Consort represented the adventures of Väinämöinen & Ilmarinen, and their battle against Louhi, Witch of the North, with three singers and one multi-instrumentalist.

In 2016, Helsinki's Utopia Chamber Choir performed an expanded version as a semi-staged opera, accompanied by medieval instruments.

Now Andrew has composed full-scale scores: for soloists and chamber orchestra, and also as a fully staged opera. 

Each score is adapted to the specific (vocal and instrumental) resources of the particular orchestra or theatre.

Karoliina Kantelinen as Louhi, the evil Witch of Northland, in the Helsinki performance (2016)

From the premieres of KALEVALA: THE OPERA with Utopia Chamber Choir & Kymi Sinfonietta February  2017:
 

Ilmarinen (Valter Maasalo) watches anxiously as Väinämöinen (Mikael Maasalo) seizes the paddle of his boat to strike Louhi, the evil Witch of the North (Karoliina Kantelinen) as they battle for the mysterious Sampo.

Photo by Katerina Antonenko
 

Vaka vanha Väinämöinen,
tietäjä iän-ikuinen,
arvasi ajan olevan,
tunsi hetken tulleheksi.
Jo veti melan merestä,
tammen lastun lainehesta;
sillä kalhaisi kavetta,
iski kynsiä kokolta:

Itse kokko kopsahtihe,
kapsahutti kaaripuille.
Siitä sampoa tavoitti
sormella nimettömällä.
Sammon vuoalti vetehen,
kaatoi kaiken kirjokannen
punapurren laitimelta
keskelle meren sinisen.

 

Wise old Väinämöinen,
eternal sage,
realises that the time has come,
knew that the moment had arrived.
Now he takes the paddle from the sea,
the oak blade from the wave;
he hits the witch with it
and bashes the claws off the eagle:

the eagle itself plummets,
crash-dives into the bottom of the boat.
Then it grabs for the Sampo
with its nameless finger,
drops the Sampo into the water,
lets its whole magic-patterned lid fall
from the side of the red boat
to the bottom of the deep blue sea.

In this battle scene, the traditional melody is a descending tetrachord (like an early baroque passacaglia), which gradually accelerates as the action develops, accompanied by the whole orchestra with wintry sounds and storm noises inspired by Vivaldi's Four Seasons. All this over a two-note ground for the bass instruments and timpani...

In another scene from KALEVALA: THE OPERA...

Ilmarinen (Valter Maasalo) tries to climb the magic spruce-tree (Jouni Äkräs). But it's all a trick by Väinämöinen, who is conjuring up a whirlwind that will cary Ilmarinen off to dark Northland.

Siitä seppo Ilmarinen
nousi puuhun korkealle,
ylähäksi taivahalle,
nousi kuuta noutamahan.

 

Ukko: Voipa miestä mieletöintä,
äkkioutoa urosta!
Nousit, outo, oksilleni,
lapsen-mieli, latvahani
kuvakuun on nouantahan,
valetähtyen varahan!

 

Silloin vanha Väinämöinen
lauloa hyrähtelevi:
lauloi tuulen tuppurihin,
ilman raivohon rakenti.

 

Väinämöinen: Ota, tuuli, purtehesi,
ahava, venosehesi
vieä vieretelläksesi
pimeähän Pohjolahan!

 

So Ilmarinen the smith
climbs high up into the tree,
up as high as the heavens,
climbed up to fetch the Moon.

 

The Old Man (as the tree): Hey you, stupid man,
you're a strange kind of hero!
You climbed into my branches, idiot,
Bird-brain, onto my belly,
To fetch a fake moon,
To grab artificial stars!

 

Meanwhile old Väinämöinen
sang under his breath,
sang the wind into a whirlwind,
built the air up into a rage.

 

Väinämöinen: Take him, Wind, into your ship
Gale, into your boat,
carry him off far away
into dark Northland!

As the various characters discuss the tree-climbing, the traditional melody is combined with the notes of the harmonic series rising to a blue-note seventh: clarinet (with Väinämöinen), high bassoon (almost comic, with Ilmarinen), bass voice (Ukko, the Old Man, embodying the tree), and finally the whole Chorus (accompanied by stormy winds, inspired by Vivaldi's Four Seasons).