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Jukka LINKOLA (b. 1955)
Robin Hood (2010)
Robin Hood - Ville Rusanen (baritone)
Maid Marian - Mari Palo (soprano)
Sheriff - Matti Salminen (bass)
Little John - Koit Soasepp (bass)
Gisborne - Jyrki Anttila (tenor)
Friar Tuck - Aki Alamikkotervo (tenor)
Sheriff’s mother - Paivi Nisula (soprano)
Much the Miller - Hannu Forsberg (bass-baritone)
Finnish National Opera Orchestra, Chorus and Children’s Choir/Mikko Franck.
rec. Finnish National Opera, Helsinki, Finland, 6 February 2011
Production by Kari Heiskanen
Blu-Ray and DVD
ALBA AB-BR-DV1 [137:00]

Set in the 12th century this opera is to a libretto by Yukka Virtanen. It is taken from the traditional story and introduces a fresh element by opening with the young son of King Richard playing with other children and acting out a crusaders’ sword-fight before the villagers enter. The villagers stop the children’s fight whilst the miller continues with his daily toil. It is a good opening that provides interest to the audience. The characters are well-framed, the plot progression is clear, and there is much action to focus on. There are nice production touches throughout to hold the attention. Later, an inset scene reveals the young Richard, son of Marian, being told that he is second in line to the throne and that evil people need to be watched out for. Kati Lukka’s effective composite set for the opening scene shows a working corn mill and rustic cart loaded with flour bags, beyond which lies a believable wood of realistic trees. Bathed in blue cross-light it is all very atmospheric. The costumes are appropriate to the period but are more European than English. However, this does not detract from an acceptable historic perspective of the legend.
Linkola built his reputation as a jazz musician and composer who admits that when a child he had imagined himself as Robin Hood after seeing the Errol Flynn film. Here he has tamed his jazz harmonies to blend a modern score to the needs of opera and of the emotions expected of the legend’s characters. The orchestral canvas is rich in detail and sounds well with the large forces playing in this performance. Linkola’s variety of colour and rhythm help the music to fit the changing moods of the plot. That said, don’t expect arias with melody: the progressive music does not provide memorable vocal lines, yet it certainly complements what is happening on stage and like a film score is constantly moving. The music may not be to every viewer’s taste and younger generations may find their focus stretched. However, the singing throughout is top class and the characters are well played apart from Friar Tuck who despite a good voice lacks sincerity in his acting. The large mixed chorus of adults and children makes a convincing crowd of villagers concerned at the poor treatment of the unfairly captured Robin Hood.
The opera sticks well to the famous legend with a convincingly grisly Sheriff making an early entry. Robin is a believable character especially in his banter with Will Scarlet. There is a good comedy scene where Friar Tuck passes through the forest with his cart of food, dirty linen and a hidden maiden, Jamila. Tuck takes on Robin for a mock fight where fish, rabbit and large mallet are used as hopeless weapons. When the box on the cart is opened the pretty maiden is revealed. It is diversions like this that make this production original. In this version the Sheriff, fussed over by his elderly ugly mother, prepares to marry Marian. The archery match is an exciting moment and is well conceived, with arrows realistically meeting their on-stage targets. Robin gives a twist to the plot by shooting his arrow not at the targets but to narrowly miss the Sheriff’s hand wrapped around Marian.
Recorded at one performance, the technicalities are very good and the shots are satisfyingly framed. The orchestra plays well throughout. Its conductor Mikko Franck is resident conductor for Finnish National Opera and he also conducts widely including for the Berlin State Opera, Stockholm Royal Opera, London Covent Garden and the New York Metropolitan.
A clearly written synopsis is provided along with brief biographies of the production team in English and Finnish. Interesting interviews are also included as an extra, the most interesting of which is the interview with Linkola who explains his interpretation of his music. Subtitles are available in English, Finnish and Swedish. The Blu-Ray and conventional DVD are packaged together, a sensible arrangement when the internal expense of an extra disc probably only puts another 60p on to the retail price.  

Raymond J Walker