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Peter Sellars revisits Adriana Mater in Helsinki: February premiere of Kaija Saariaho’s opera at the Finnish National Opera (BK)

Recently named Composer of the Year in the USA, Kaija Saariaho's second opera
Adriana Mater, will be premiered at the Finnish National Opera on 23rd February 2008.The work was given its world premiere at the Bastille Opera in Paris two years ago in a joint production by the Opera National de Paris and the Finnish National Opera which is now being brought to Helsinki.

The original production was directed by American-born Peter Sellars, who is now revisiting the production in more depth: “The piece will grow significantly. As with all new pieces, with each performance you learn something new”, he says. The production has been further developed since the performances in Paris, not only in terms of directing but in other aspects too. For example, the choir will be placed offstage instead of in the orchestra pit, with a monitor screen to link them to the conductor and a PA system to convey the sound to the stage.

At the premiere, the role of Adriana will be sung by mezzo-soprano Monica Groop, with soprano Pia Freund as Refka, Jyrki Korhonen as Tsargo and Tuomas Katajala as Yonas. Laura Nykänen, Mari Palo, Jouni Kokora and Dan Karlström will be appearing in the second cast. Conductor Ernest Martínez Izquierdo will conduct the premiere and some of the subsequent performances, and Anna-Maria Helsing will conduct the rest.

Adriana Mater is set in the present, in a crisis zone in an unnamed country, perhaps Afghanistan, Iraq, Bosnia or Darfur. The poignant story reflects on motherhood. Adriana, her son Yonas and her sister Rafka go through personal hell in the midst of civil war. Years ago, Tsargo, a soldier from their village, raped the young Adriana, and Yonas was born despite Refka’s efforts to prevent her sister having the child. Adriana now anxiously watches Yonas as he grows into a man: is his blood that of a rapist or that of his innocent mother? Is he Cain or Abel?

The libretto was written by Lebanese-French author Amin Maalouf. Besides Maalouf and Sellars, the rest of the production team is also the same as in Paris: set designer George Tsypin, costume designer Martin Pakledinaz and lighting designer James F. Ingalls.

Adriana Mater will be in the repertoire at the Finnish National Opera until 28 March 2008 and I will attend the premiere for Seen and Heard.

Bill Kenny

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