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Finnish National Opera Chorus - 60th Anniversary Gala soloists, Finnish National Opera chorus and orchestra, Muhai Tang, 27th May, 2005 (BK)


Finland has a particularly strong tradition of choral singing and boasts more than 300 amateur choirs recruited from a population of just five million. The FNO chorus however is the country's only professional choir and dates back to 1945 when the Choir Singers' Association of Finnish National Opera was formed with 33 permanent members. In 1993 when the new opera house opened in Helsinki, the chorus was expanded to its current strength of 60 singers (17 sopranos, 14 altos, 14 tenors and 15 basses) although extra members are hired as needed for particularly large productions. The first Chorus Master was Oscar Merikanto and some of his successors have included Ulf Söderblom, Paavo Heininen, Ilkka Kuusisto and Matti Hyökki.


With the demands of the modern opera repertoire, all current members of the chorus need to be of soloist calibre: many appear regularly in FNO's own productions and also as guest soloists in other productions in Finland's provinces. In addition to its contribution to some twenty FNO productions each season, the chorus gives concert performances almost every year, records with the rest of the company and currently features on the Naxos recording of Rachmaninov's Vespers Op 27 (Naxos 8.555908) in its own right. From time to time, the chorus stages whole productions on its own too, the most recent being Ravel's L'enfant et les sortilèges in 2002.


For this semi-staged gala, the current Chorus Master, Eric-Olof Söderström chose a programme designed carefully to show off the group's versatility and to highlight the contributions made by the women's and men's voices separately. The concert began with John Adams' 'Night Chorus' from The Death of Klinghoffer, a piece full of Adams' typical pounding orchestral accompaniment.This was followed immediately by a short extract (Is it Spring in Finland?) from Aulis Sallinen' s Red Line (Punainen Viiva,) a largely a capella composition. In addition to demonstrating the company's commitment to Finnish opera, the Sallinen extract was a particularly appropriate choice because the composer's 70th birthday (in April of this year) coincided nicely with this anniversary.


After a long extract from Carmen in which the title role was sung with considerable verve by chorus-member Tuija Knihtilä, the women's chorus offered 'Chi può vederla' from Donizetti's Anna Bolena. This was followed by an excerpt from Pique Dame, and two big scenes from La traviata, the second of which naturally included the 'Brindisi.'


In the second half of the concert, the chorus was joined by Matti Salminen for the Coronation scene from Boris Godunov and for the final scene from Act III of Khovanshchina. Two Wagner extracts followed next, the orchestral prelude to Lohengrin Act III and Bridal Scene, and then the Pilgrim's Chorus from Tannhäuser. The concert concluded with Turandot (Chorus to the Moon, 'Nessun Dorma' sung very ably by tenor Mika Pohjonen, and the final chorus.)


As a display of first-rate choral artistry, this concert could hardly have been bettered and the solo contributions from the choristers (there were several others as well as those already mentioned) all reflected the high standards required for entry to this elite group. After rapturous (and wholly justified) applause from the audience, Matti Salminen joined the chorus's basses for the almost compulsory encore, 'Va pensiero' from Nabucco. The audience loved this too and no other choice could have been any more appropriate for this celebratory occasion.


Bill Kenny

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Contributors: Marc Bridle (North American Editor), Martin Anderson, Patrick Burnson, Frank Cadenhead, Colin Clarke, Paul Conway, Geoff Diggines, Sarah Dunlop, Evan Dickerson Melanie Eskenazi (London Editor) Robert J Farr, Abigail Frymann, Göran Forsling, Simon Hewitt-Jones, Bruce Hodges,Tim Hodgkinson, Martin Hoyle, Bernard Jacobson, Tristan Jakob-Hoff, Ben Killeen, Bill Kenny (Regional Editor), Ian Lace, Jean Martin, John Leeman, Neil McGowan, Bettina Mara, Robin Mitchell-Boyask, Simon Morgan, Aline Nassif, Anne Ozorio, Ian Pace, John Phillips, Jim Pritchard, John Quinn, Peter Quantrill, Alex Russell, Paul Serotsky, Harvey Steiman, Christopher Thomas, John Warnaby, Hans-Theodor Wolhfahrt, Peter Grahame Woolf (Founder & Emeritus Editor)