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14 Feb 2012

Opera based on the international hit novel by Sofi Oksanen

In April, the Finnish National Opera will be giving the world premiere of the opera Purge, based on the international hit novel by Sofi Oksanen.

Composed by Jüri Reinvere, it is an exploration of recent Estonian history.

Sofi Oksanen's Purge is one of the most widely read Finnish novels of all time. It has been or is being translated into 43 languages. The novel has been consistently acclaimed in reviews; the Sunday Times for instance ranked it as a family saga above all others. The novel has also won several prizes, beginning with the Finlandia Prize and including the Nordic Council Literature Prize and the Prix Femina Étranger in France.

Purge traces the stories of individuals in parallel with the fate of a nation. Aliide, a young woman, meets Zara, a young woman who has escaped from pimps. This encounter leads to an unveiling of Aliide's past and also the history of Estonia from the 1930s onwards. Aliide and her sister were in love with the same man, and this led to a tragedy. On the national level, the tragedy was the Soviet occupation and the disappearances of people purged from society.

"Purge has been received with shock in Estonia on many levels, because people there are accustomed to talk about the past in a certain way," says composer Jüri Reinvere, who was born in Tallinn in 1971. He adapted the libretto for the opera himself, changing the focus somewhat from that of the novel.

"I emphasise Estonians coming to terms with the past. I claim that the past can only become the past when we have faced it eye to eye."

Jüri Reinvere graduated as a composer from the Sibelius Academy. His output contains many settings of his own poems. He frequently makes use of tape effects and natural sounds in his works.

Purge is Reinvere's first opera. It is modern in style, yet he himself considers it a traditional opera. "I was not trying to break any records in experimentation," he says.

"The libretto is merciless, exposing the weaknesses and pettiness of the human individual," says Tiina Puumalainen, director of the opera production. "On the other hand, it also highlights how difficult it is to make the right choices."

The story moves back and forth in time, covering a period from the 1930s to the present day. The set, designed by Teppo Järvinen, draws on Soviet propaganda and modern popular movements. The opera offers both grand events that fill the stage and intimate moments.

The main character in the opera is such a demanding role that is divided between two singers: young Aliide will be played by Helena Juntunen / Tove Åman, while old Aliide will be played by Johanna Rusanen-Kartano / Heli Veskus. The third major female role is Zara, the young woman escaping a life of prostitution. This role will be played by Niina Keitel / Melis Jaatinen. The performances will be conducted by Estonian conductor Paul Mägi. The world premiere will take place on 20 April 2012. There will be ten performances in all, the last one being on 25 May 2012.

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