Personalities | Aulis Sallinen | Modern Era | Opera

b. 1935, Finnish

Hailing from a country without a strong operatic legacy, Sallinen approaches the craft of composition with true dramatic flair, as well as a genuine understanding of how to create theatre-oriented music in a more traditional tonal language.

The first of his six operas, Ratsumies (‘The Horseman’, 1975), was such a huge national success that the Finnish National Opera then commissioned Punainen viiva (‘The Red Line’, 1978). The international buzz that followed in turn led to a joint commission from Finland’s Savonlinna Festival, London’s Royal Opera House and the BBC that resulted in Kuningas lähtee Ranskaan (‘The King Goes Forth to France’, 1983). A seriocomic parable on human violence, this ultimately divided the critics, yet by now Finland’s opera scene was beginning to flourish as other young composers entered the scene, and Sallinen responded to a commission for the opening of a new opera house in Helsinki by writing Kullervo (1988).

A collection of poems from the poetic song tradition that relate the powerful tale of a feud between two brothers, this was actually premiered in Los Angeles, 25 February 1992, prior to its performance at the Helsinki opera house in December 1993. While the chamber-opera political satire Palatsi (‘The Palace’, 1995) was less critically successful, Sallinen’s most recent opera, King Lear (2000), is regarded as the synthesis of his musical ideas and the themes that he holds dear.

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