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David Shengold
Opera News, January 2012

Kaivos sounds like a powerful experience…

Hannu Lintu’s forces perform with conviction. …there is notable work from trenchant tenor Mati Turi as Marko, a hotheaded—and later wounded and delirious—young miner, and from fine, elegant-sounding bass-baritone Jaakko Kortekangas as the Priest. © 2012 Opera News Read complete review

Hubert Culot
MusicWeb International, December 2011

Rautavaara’s first opera Kaivos is a compact, though powerful work that communicates in the most direct way through its strongly expressive music and tight dramaturgy. Kaivos may well be Rautavaara’s finest opera. © MusicWeb International

Lynn René Bayley
Fanfare, July 2011

I wanted to hear this disc because I like much of Rautavaara’s music but had never heard a complete opera by him. Kaivos, a pretty depressing story told in fairly bleak and depressing music, was performed on Finnish TV in 1963 but never recorded until now.

Like many modern operas based on nihilistic themes, Kaivos suffers from what I call, for lack of a better term, modernistic angularity. By this I mean that the music has little or no rhythmic momentum but, rather, employs a great many octave and half-octave leaps for both instruments and voices in an effort to make it sound bleak and dramatic. There is one very interesting passage for the soprano that sounds influenced by Kurt Weill, including a saxophone, meaning that it has a ragtime rather than a true jazz sound, but by and large I find the music as bleak as if not bleaker than the story.

Overall, the opera is not as uncomfortable for me to listen to as Janáček’s Jenůfa, but not as interesting as Berg’s Wozzeck or Peter Bengston’s Maids. The singers have good voices, though Johanna Rusanen-Kartano’s has that hard, steely-bright quality indigenous to many Scandinavian sopranos, and some of the men have an incipient wobble. The orchestra and chorus are superb. I think I might have liked the opera a little more if I’d been able to watch the performance rather than just listen to it; the choral passage at the beginning of act III is exquisite, and some of the best music to be heard, but a passionate music drama like this one sometimes needs the visual element. (I would add that the same applies to some Russian operas, even such a venerable one as Mussorgsky’s Khovanschina.)

In sum, then, an interesting work to hear once, and for that I recommend it…

Hubert Culot
MusicWeb International, June 2011

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.

David Fanning
Gramophone, June 2011

Rautavaara’s first opera receives its first performances almost 50 years on

Completed in 1962 but composed largely between 1957 and 1960, The Mine is Rautavaara’s own story of miners striking against and eventually being crushed by a dictatorial party, the latter represented onstage by the highly ambivalent figure of a Commissar, who is hated by the workers he sincerely professes to love. Several of the central characters face dire existential choices (the composer was heavily into Sartre at the time), which makes for some productive tensions and intriguing intellectual perspectives, but not necessarily for great opera, and it is hard to imagine many listeners going along with the composer’s assessment of his work as “a real thriller”. What does give the story edge is its obvious and acknowledged allegory for the 1956 Hungarian uprising. This and the general context of Soviet Finlandisation made staging too hazardous to contemplate at the time. The Mine was first produced for television in 1963 and has still not been seen in the opera house; this new recording was taken from concert performances in Tampere last September.

Just as events in Hungary engendered the story, so Rautavaara’s encounter with Schoenberg’s Moses und Aron at its Zürich world premiere in 1957 inspired the musical language in which to tell it. The resistance of the musical material to operatic norms parallels the resistance of the miners to their oppressors, as well as safeguarding against any hint of chocolate-box pathos. Episodes in quasi-tonal jazzy style occasionally evoke the world outside, but Rautavaara goes nowhere near as far as Berg in this respect and the chorus’s Schoenbergian speech-song declamation is a serious blot on the aesthetic landscape. Overall, the consistency of musical language is highly impressive yet may, paradoxically, prove one reason why the most The Mine can ever hope to command is respect.

Any cast willing to take on this dauntingly unglamorous music, and able to do so with such authority, commands rather more than respect. There is certainly some strain in the singing but also a compelling quota of dramatic truth and passion. Hannu Lintu’s belief in the work shines through and he brings the Tampere Philharmonic with him undaunted, as the three 25-minute acts take us from the outside world to the edge of the mine and finally to its claustrophobic interior.

This first of Rautavaara’s operas may or may not be, in his own words, “perhaps the best opera I have ever written”; I for one take more away from his single-personality-centred dramas—Vincent, Thomas and Aleksis Kivi (though not from his Rasputin). Still, The Mine is certainly serious and stirring stuff. This recording fills a major gap in the Rautavaara discography and fills it with distinction.

Hilary Finch
BBC Music Magazine, May 2011

The Great Jorma Hynninen is in untarnished voice as the dictator figure. The commissar; the bass Hanu Niemelä is a dark Simon (the former partisan, an ambivalent leader of the rebelling miners): and the mezzo-tinted soprano Johanna Rusanen-Kartano a powerful Ira, his compromised lover

Allen Gimbel
American Record Guide, May 2011

This is obviously hardly great literature, and it makes for a messy libretto. The music is another matter entirely. Rautavaara’s score is lyrical, romantic, and lush—thoroughly musical and completely absorbing. The notes rather simplistically bring up Berg as a model, but the music sounds nothing like Berg or anyone else even remotely Viennese. Instead, it sounds like Rautavaara writing a 12-tone piece, and I can’t imagine a better compliment. I couldn’t help thinking that if Rautavaara had chosen to spend his career writing 12-tone music (and I’m glad he didn’t), he might have been the greatest 12-tone composer in history. Be that as it may, this is a fascinating document of Cold War angst, and the comparison between it and a work like Nono’s Intolleranza (reviewed above), written at almost the same time, is more than instructive. Finnish-English libretto included. I hear no evidence of an audience. Singing is good, as is orchestral performance.

Grego Applegate Edwards
Gapplegate Music Review, March 2011

Rautavaara, I am discovering, is a composer of some depth and breadth. His 1962 opera Kaivos (The Mine) (Ondine 1174-2) illustrates this to me. It involves a dramatic story set “somewhere in Europe” in the ’50s. A group of miners engage in an illegal strike. They are directed by outside forces but find that while those forces have managed to set things in motion, they cannot give the miners support to see the action through. The leaders of the strike are left at the crossroads. Give up, fight on to a probable death? As Rautavaara states in the liner notes, the universal theme of human choice in the midst of crisis is dramatically played out.

The performance on this disk is the first on CD and follows the first and only staging of the work thus far.

Musically there is a definite early high-modernist feel to this music. Think of Berg’s masterpiece Wozzeck and you wont be far from the expressionistic aspects of the drama as it unfolds vocally and orchestrally. Soloists, chorus and the Tampere Philharmonic do a fine job realizing the score.

It gives you another take on the music of Rautavaara. I don’t know at this point in my exploration of his music quite where this one fits in within the overall trajectory of his complete opus. I must say I found the music compelling, the orchestral score quite moving, the vocal roles maximally dramatic. It is a work of some complexity and I will need to experience it a number of times more to get a full grasp of it. Those who favor Rautavaara’s music will probably find it indispensable. Modern opera buffs will find it worthy. Others must listen and decide for themselves.

Kevin Filipski
Times Square, February 2011

Still going strong at age 82, Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara is among the 20th—and now 21st-century’s greatest opera composers. He’s written brilliant bio-operas about Vincent Van Gogh and the infamous Rasputin; this first recording of his very first opera, written a half-century ago, is another ear-opener. A compact thriller clocking in at a fleet 75 minutes, The Mine combines genuine suspense, taut drama and brilliant vocal writing for soloists and chorus. A stellar cast of Rautavaara regulars, led by bass Jorma Hynninen, shines throughout, as does the Kaivos Chorus and Tampere Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Hannu Lintu.

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