> HEINIO The knight and the Dragon BISCD1246 [HC]: Classical Reviews- May2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Mikko HEINIÖ (born 1948)
The Knight and the Dragon (1999/2000)
Curt Appelgren (bass-baritone), Prince Erik; Helena Juntunen (soprano), Marina; Charlotte Hellekant (mezzo-soprano), Göran Sköld; Rúni Brattaberg (bass), Sören Drake; Aki Alamikkotervo (tenor), Jester; Sari Nordqvist (contralto), Black Lady; Mia Huhta (soprano), White Lady; Turku Opera Chorus; Turku Philharmonic Orchestra/Ulf Söderblom
Recorded: Turku Concert Hall, November 2000
BIS CD-1246 [76:51]


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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.

Hubert Culot

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