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Robert Levine, November 2002

Rautavaara scores the work for string orchestra, synthesizer, percussion, and two clarinets, and the writing always is graceful and supportive of the voice. When Kivi (or one of his friends/disciples) is reciting (singing) one of Kivi’s poems, it’s positively lyrical. Indeed, the scenes with the young, still-idealistic Kivi, his patron Charlotte, and his student Hilda are lovely. A rowdy students’ drinking song in Act 2 is as honest and convincing as those in Le damnation de Faust or Tales of Hoffmann. When there is chaos—either mental or actual, as when the mature Kivi is being denounced—the instrumental complement becomes raucous. The clarinets are used brilliantly, from their mellowest depths to a klezmer-like frenzy. When Kivi’s mind finally collapses entirely at the close of the third act, the music dissolves into a lunatic cacophony. To call this opera “accessible” is to sell it short; within five minutes we actually care about Kivi, and the music draws us in as well.

Hynninen’s…singing of the final, beautiful song is as artful and touching as anything you’ll hear for some time. Suovanen sounds remarkably like him; his music is more fluid and his cantilena easier, and he, too, is wonderfully expressive.

Lasse Pöysti’s Ahlqvist is a study in demonic exclamation—brilliantly spoken. Marcus Groth’s half-screamed Runeberg is an amazing indictment. Eeva-Liisa Saarinen…is sympathetic and more; her gentleness in their encounters is touching. As the younger student Hilda, Helena Juntunen is fine in a thankless, underdeveloped role. The remainder of the cast is superb and the recorded sound is all you could ask for. Anyone interested in contemporary music-theatre should hear this finely crafted and often lovely work.

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