RECORDING OF THE MONTH
Einojuhani RAUTAVAARA (b. 1928)
Hannu Niemelä (Simon); Johanna Rusanen-Kartano (Ira); Jorma Hynninen (Commissar); Jaakko Kortekangas (Priest); Mati Turi (Marko); Petri Pussila (Vanha); Tuomas Katajala (A miner); Kaivos Chorus
Tampere Philharmonic Orchestra/Hannu Lintu
rec. Tampere Hall, 21-24 September 2010
Libretto and translation
ONDINE ODE 1174-2 [75:52]
Rautavaara’s first opera Kaivos (“The Mine”) had a rather long and chequered genesis. The composer began thinking about it in 1957 when he heard a story about miners besieged in the mine where they worked, trapped in the depths of the earth. Some time later when the Jenny and Antti Wihuri Foundation launched an opera competition Rautavaara recalled the story of the rebellious miners and set to work writing his own libretto - something he was to do for all his later operas. The bulk of the composition was done in the late fifties and early sixties. The competition jury chose Rautavaara’s opera for first place, but it was another work that was eventually announced as the winner whereas Rautavaara only received a diploma. This was during one of Finland’s most difficult historical periods, that of the so-called “Finlandisation” during which one had to avoid any all-too-direct opposition with the mighty neighbour. Moreover the political content of the opera was likely to bring memories of the then quite recent and brutally repressed Hungarian Uprising. Nevertheless the then director of the Finnish National Opera took an interest in the work and spent some time with Rautavaara to revise the opera to make it more politically correct. In fact the main change was to make the Commissar into a Prefect and to modify the phrase “Save them from the sickle” into “Save them from ruin”. The opera, however, was not staged then but was broadcast by the Finnish Broadcasting Corporation in April 1963. At the time this recording was made (2010), the opera was still awaiting its premiere in a staged production. In the meantime, however, the composer planned to revise and expand the opera. Actually I have a rather old list of works published by the Finnish Music Information Centre stating that Kaivos was under revision and that the revised version would play for one hour and forty minutes, but the work remained mostly unchanged and the only difference is the change of the Prefect back to a Commissar!
Thus Kaivos is a compact and concise work in three short acts that actually tell us all we have to be told without any lingering and going straight to the point. In the first act the miners rebel against the dictatorship of the Party and one of them tears a portrait of “The Leader” into pieces. This may remind you of things witnessed fairly recently. The Commissar represents the Party and, although they have made him a prisoner, the miners obviously still fear him. They need a leader and they think that Simon should be the one to lead them and to free them. After the miners’ enthusiasm has cooled down the priest tries to persuade Simon either to make peace with the authorities or to flee because the revolt would destroy the mine and its workers. Simon believes that he has no choice: “Either they might fail now because I leave them or even if I choose to lead them”. The second act is the dramatic core of the opera. Distant rifle fire and machine-gun fusillades are heard while Marko checks the radio set. The Commissar, his hands bound, and Ira stand apart. Ira moves to the table and turns the radio on and a jazzy tune is heard accompanying Ira’s long scene at the end of which she frees the Commissar. Marko tries to intervene but is backstabbed by the Commissar who tries to escape using Ira as a shield when Simon and the Priest come back in the hut. There follows a quite nervous dialogue between Simon and the Commissar who eventually tries to convince that he is one of the miners which Simon is not. Simon proposes a game to the Commissar. With her back to him Ira will have to guess which hand Simon raises. The right answer will free the Commissar, whereas the wrong one will mean his death. At first she refuses to play the game but Simon and the accusations of the women force her to do so. Simon, however, does not raise any hand till she cries “left!”. Simon then raises his left hand and releases the Commissar. A miner comes in a hurry telling that there has been a breakthrough in the positions and the besieged cannot hold on for long. There is now just one way to escape a new siege. Simon opens the gate leading down into the mine. Ira overhears the radio announcement that the revolt has been defeated and that amnesty is promised on condition that the leaders are handed over. She goes down the tunnel but does not tell anyone of what she has just heard. In the third act down in the mine the Priest serves communion. Ira tries again to persuade Simon to leave with her but Simon refuses. The miners intone a rowdy drinking song that ends up in a din and makes the feverish Marko panic. He and some others will escape but Simon and Vanha bar their way with rifles. They shoot and a bullet hits Ira. The rifle shots make parts of the wall collapse revealing an old tunnel into which everyone eventually vanishes except Simon who is killed by two soldiers accompanying the Commissar.
The content of the opera drew some strongly dramatic and expressive music although much of it is atonal and even serial, but quite often more akin to Berg than to Webern. The music is stylistically quite coherent throughout although the composer admits that he had to rely on more traditional music used “as props” required by the dramatic situation. So the jazzy music is heard on the radio and accompanying Ira’s long scene in which she dances in front of the Commissar before freeing him. This episode may remind one of the dance episode in Berg’s Wozzeck because it is part of an important scene in which the almost ordinary music enhances a surreal mood. Ira does not know why she frees the Commissar and has no idea of how her doing so might impact on the later events. The prayer at the opening of the third act and the miners’ drinking song are the only other “props” in this otherwise stylistically coherent work. There are also a few episodes such as the miners’ chorus in the opening section of the first act and the women’s chorus at the beginning of the second act and finally the women’s chorus accusing Ira in the third act that use the technique of the speaking chorus that Rautavaara must surely have inherited from his studies with Wladimir Vogel.
I do not think that this reading could be bettered. Everyone sings with utmost conviction. This is a male-dominated opera in which a lonely soprano has to assert herself, which Johanna Rusanen-Kartano does magnificently. Hannu Lintu conducts a carefully prepared and superbly committed performance that does this strongly expressive opera full justice … at long last. The quality of the singing and of the playing is perfectly matched by some fine recording and the booklet is a model of its kind.
I have no hesitation whatsoever in endorsing this powerful opera which the composer considers as his best - a finding with which I fully agree. This magnificent release is my recording of the month and will be high up in my list of Records of the Year.
A magnificent performance of Rautavaara’s first and finest opera.