, March 2007
The Hunt of King Charles ("Kung Karl's jakt") is Finland's first opera - or, at least, the first to be written there (in 1852) ironically since its composer was German and the libretto is in Swedish although it is often performed nowadays (as here) in Finnish translation. The action takes place in the Åland Islands rather than on the Finnish islands and concerns an abortive attempt in 1671 to overthrow the 16-year -old Swedish king, Charles XI. The story charts the hatching of the conspiracy during Act 1 by a group of Swedish nobles but interrupted by the accidental killing of a royal elk by a seal hunter, Jonathan, and his tracking down (in Act2). However, his fiancee, Leonora, overhear the nobles' resumed plotting and raises the populace to thwart their coup. As reward, she begs for and is granted Jonathan's pardon, the king's largesse extending to a 10-year tax exemption for the islanders for their assistance in his release.
Admittedly, Pacius (1809-91) did much to enrich Finland's musical life, not least in his settings of Finnish poetry, including Runeberg's Suomen laulu, which later became the national anthem. Musically, however, The Hunt of King Charles, recently revived by Finnish National Opera, is a German opera and owes far more to Der Freischütz than Kalevala. It is as much Singspiel as through-composed opera, with a deal of spoken dialogue to move the story along: indeed, the boy king's role is entirely spoken. These passages are no more distracting than in The Magic Flute, but the lack of libretto for non-Finnish speakers is a distinct drawback.
There is little overtly nationalistic in Pacius's music, although he injects some local colour into Act 3. There are good moments aplenty and some charming melodies, the pick being Leonora's ballad (disc1 tr 15) and aria (disc 2 tr 2). Pori Opera's rendition (recorded in 2001) is well drilled, the large cast - there are 21 separate roles- acquitting themselves well, though the huntsmen in the opening chorus sound more like Berliozan brigands than a royal Nordic hunting party! The orchestra support ably without being sensational, directed surely by Ari Rasilainen. The sound is very acceptable, well focused and warm.
David's Review Corner
, January 2007
Frederik Pacius was born in Finland in 1809, and though now
almost unknown, he became the 'father of Finnish music', contributing to the
history of the country with the Finnish National Anthem. Though composed in
the 19th century, The Hunt of King Charles from 1852 was the first truly
Finnish national opera. That it never found a place in the international repertoire
you will soon realise from this recording, for Pacius was composing in a style
long gone. When you compare the fact that Verdi and Wagner at that time were
offering their great masterpieces, The Hunt of King Charles never stood
a chance. It took as its inspiration the early operas of Weber, and at times
goes back to Mozart as it flits between opera and operetta, using in its three
acts much spoken dialogue between arias and choruses. Zachris Topelius wrote
the original story in Swedish, Pacius working from a Finnish translation, and
it is here sung in that language. If all this sounds rather damning, forget
its chronological place in history and think of this as a Germanic songspeil
from a good 18th century kapelmeister, and then you will garner considerable
pleasure. The young King is a speaking part and much of the vocal demands are
placed on the hard-pressed Kristina Kattelus as the king's mother and the big
sonorous bass of Mauri Vesanto, though I particularly enjoyed the tenor, Matti
Heinikari. In addition to the cast list in the heading, the score does call
for a legion of singers in smaller roles that may well have been taken by chorus
members. The opera gets off to a most enjoyable start, the orchestra, which
I presume is playing modern instruments, being one of the recording's real merits.
Working from an advance release copy I do not have the origin of the performance,
but some awkward vocal moments early in the opera would point to a 'live' recording,
while the chorus is rather placed to the rear. The highly experienced conductor,
Ari Rasilainen, keeps the opera moving forward with urgency, and brings the
work to a very spirited conclusion. I don't suppose it will ever receive another
recording, so grab this while it is available.