Mikko Heiniö’s church opera Riddaren och
Draken (70.1999/2000) to a libretto by the Swedish speaking
author Bo Karpelan, was composed for the 700th anniversary
of Turku Cathedral. The opera is in two acts of fairly equal length
framed by an Intrada and a Coda, and separated by an Intermezzo.
The libretto is loosely based on the legend of St George and the Dragon,
i.e. the eternal duality in Man’s soul, the everlasting conflict between
light and darkness, good and evil. This duality is further emphasised
by having Marina’s personality split between herself (sung by a soprano)
and her braver self, Göran Sköld ("sköld" is
the Swedish for "shield"), sung by a mezzo-soprano; and also
by the confrontation of the Dark Chorus and the Black Lady (pessimism
and cynicism) and the Light Chorus and the White Lady (optimism and
idealism). One thinks of Tippett’s words in A Child of our Time:
"I would know my shadow and my light".
The plot is fairly simple and straightforward as befits
a mystery play. The city is plundered by Sören Drake ("drake"
is the Swedish for "dragon") and his band of robbers. The
people bid for the Prince’s protection and the merchants suggest that
Sören Drake should be offered rich gifts of gold and silver. The
Prince disagrees with the proposal. The Jester reveals that Marina is
what Drake really aims at and tries to convince Marina to surrender
to Drake. Marina decides to face the Dragon who breaks into the church.
He demands gold, silver and Marina. The prince and Marina find the strength
to resist. Göran Sköld (Marina’s own strength) appears and
defeats the Dragon. After Drake’s defeat and Sköld’s departure,
the Prince tells Marina that his time is over. "It is your power,
your voice that you preserve. Mine is over." The town people, all
re-united, sing their faith in their future.
Heiniö, who has often been referred to as a post-modernist,
whatever this may mean, wrote an appropriately direct score of some
substance, and – for the present writer at least – one of his finest
so far. The music is straightforward, colourful, superbly scored, eminently
singable and often grippingly dramatic. There are many impressive ensembles
with excellent singing by the Turku Opera Chorus and quite a good deal
of really fine music for the main characters. Everyone concerned sings
and plays with evident commitment and with a communicative conviction
making the best of this fine work, well served by a magnificent performance
recorded, I suppose, in the wake of the first performance in Turku Cathedral.
Mikko Heiniö’s Riddaren och Draken
is yet another example of the richness and the variety of the Finnish
latter-day operatic vitality and undoubtedly a work favourably comparing
with, say, Sallinen’s operas.