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23 Apr 2012

Finnish National Opera 2012-2013 season to showcase eight opera and ballet premieres

The Finnish National Opera's 2012-2013 season promises to be an unforgettable one with eight exciting new premieres.

The performance season begins in mid-August 2012 and tickets for the season's productions will go on sale beginning Wednesday 11 April 2012.

Highlights from Mikko Franck's last season include Verdi, French opera and something from the twentieth-century

The 2012-2013 season is Mikko Franck's last as the FNO's Artistic Director of the Opera and General Music Director. Franck has held the position of General Music Director since 2006 and has acted as the Artistic Director of the Opera since 2008. Upon his departure in autumn 2013, FNO ensemble member, mezzo-soprano Lilli Paasikivi will assume the Artistic Director of the Opera position.

Franck's choice of programme for the upcoming season includes Verdi, a French opera from Massenet and twentieth-century opera. The season begins with Leoš Janáček's opera The Makropulos Affair starring Karita Mattila, and peaks in the spring with a production of one of the landmarks in the history of opera, Richard Wagner's Tristan und Isolde. In between these two works falls an enticing mix of productions: Giuseppe Verdi's darkly emotive drama Don Carlos, Jules Massenet's incandescent and exotic Thaïs, Béla Bartók's Duke Bluebeard's Castle and Ruggero Leoncavallo's Pagliacci

The Makropulos Affair tells the story of a 300-year-old singing star who takes an elixir promising eternal youth. A joint production with the San Francisco Opera, The Makropulos Affair is directed by Olivier Tambosi. The 2010 premiere left US critics enraptured, with Karita Mattila's performance in particular being praised as one of the finest of her career. "Karita Mattila was born to play the part of the beautiful, mysterious immortal feminine Emilia Marty, and the only surprise is that the Finnish soprano has waited this long to tackle the character," wrote The Classical Review. The Makropulos Affair premieres in Finland on 31 August 2012, conducted by Mikko Franck. Frank Phillip Schlössmann designed the costumes and the sets, with Duane Schuler providing lighting design. Guest performers such as Jürgen Müller and Jaakko Kortekangas appear in supporting roles.  

Set in primordial Spain, the brooding story of love, politics and power that is Don Carlos is given a new untamed interpretation in the hands of director Manfred Schweigkofler. The FNO premiere will take place on 19 October 2012, after which the opera moves to the Prague State Opera in the spring of 2013. The Goth-inspired set is the work of Walter Schütze and the costumes were designed by the Finnish fashion designer Heidi Wikar. Pietro Rizzo will conduct. A real celebration of Finnish vocal talent is in store in this production: with the title role sung by Mika Pohjonen, Mika Kares and Jyrki Korhonen sharing the role of King Philip II, Tommi Hakala and Jaakko Kortekangas appearing as Rodrigo, and Lilli Paasikivi and Päivi Nisula as Princess Eboli. Gregory Frank and Koit Soasepp sing the part of the Grand Inquisitor and Judith Howarth and Sandra Lopez appear as Elisabeth.

On 25 January 2013 the Finnish National Opera will premiere a new production of Jules Massenet's opera Thäis, last performed by the FNO in the 1930s. The story centres on the courtesan Thäis and the monk Athenaël, who knew Thäis as a child and sets out to save her from a life of sin. Unfortunately, he too is soon drawn in by her beauty. This Nicola Raab production, shown previously at The Göteborg Opera, transfers the events from ancient Alexandria to the decadent theatre world of 1890's France, the same era in which the opera's composer Jules Massenet lived. In the new production, Thäis is portrayed as a famous theatre actress. The demanding lead role of Thäis is shared by Malin Byström and Sabina Cvilak, with Mikko Franck conducting the incandescently colourful score. The vibrant, multi-coloured set and costume design is the work of Johan Engles and the production lighting is the design of Linus Fellbom.  

Later in the spring, on 12 April 2013, the FNO will premiere a rare double bill of operas when Ruggero Leoncavallo's Pagliacci is paired with Béla Bartók's Duke Bluebeard's Castle. Both productions are directed by the Finnish director Vilppu Kiljunen, noted for his visionary directorial work on previous FNO productions of Tchaikovsky's The Queen of Spades and Verdi's Un ballo in maschera (A Masked Ball).    Pagliacci is a character drama about a traveling commedia dell'arte troupe, where theatre and reality tragically combine as a jealous husband suspects his wife. Kiljunen's production further emphasizes the element of illusion, playing on the fluid interface between art and reality. Bluebeard's Castle, for its part, is a symbolic voyage into the depths of the mind, guided by Bartók's potent music. Bluebeard brings a new wife home to his castle, where she begins to open the castle doors one by one. The opera set is designed by Sampo Pyhälä, costumes by Mirkka Nyrhinen, and lighting by Kimmo Karjunen

The impassioned ecstasy of love and music is on offer later in the spring of 2013 when the premiere of Richard Wagner's Tristan und Isolde, directed by Elisabeth Linton, hits the FNO stage. Although the opera events themselves may not keep you on the edge of your seat, the five-hour score promises a thrilling rollercoaster ride of emotion. "Only singularly-talented performers have the physical stamina to get through this opera and these are very few," Wagner once said. The lead roles in the FNO production are sung by Marion Ammann and Robert Dean Smith, the latter having appeared as Tristan in previous productions in Bayreuth, Vienna and the Metropolitan Opera in New York. Lilli Paasikivi sings the role of Brangäne, Tommi Hakala plays Kurwenal, and none other than Matti Salminen sings the role of Marke, King of Cornwall. Pinchas Steinberg is scheduled to conduct. Set design is the work of Steffen Aarfing, costumes Marie í Dali and lighting Jesper Kongshaug. The FNO premiere of Tristan und Isolde will take place on 17 May 2013.

The season's opera selection also contains some classic revivals from earlier seasons. Four different Verdi productions are slated, including Georg Rootering's versions of Aida and Rigoletto, the ever-popular La Traviata, and Vilppu Kiljunen's production of Un ballo in maschera (A Masked Ball). Audience favourites like Mozart's Magic Flute and Puccini's Tosca are also in store.

At the beginning of the season in early August 2012, the Finnish National Opera's orchestra will also put in a guest appearance at the Turku Music Festival in the 'The Battle of the Orchestras' concert, where Mikko Franck will lead the FNO orchestra in a friendly orchestral competition against the Royal Swedish Opera orchestra.

Finnish National Ballet's anniversary year culminates in Kenneth Greve's Snow Queen

The Finnish National Ballet continues the celebration of its 90th anniversary in the year 2012. The autumn season's first premiere takes place on 21 September 2012 with Ivan Liška's Le Corsaire. This is the first time the Finnish National Ballet will ever perform this Marius Petipa ballet revival classic from the late 19th century. Ivan Liška based his version on Petipa's earlier choreography, for the Bavarian State Ballet in 2006. Set and costume design is the work of Roger Kirk and lighting is designed by Christian Kass. Le Corsaise tells the tale of the Greek heroine Medora, sold as a slave to the evil Pasha but rescued by the corsair Conrad. 

The anniversary year culminates on 23 November 2012 when the Artistic Director of the Ballet Kenneth Greve presents the premiere of his new choreography, The Snow Queen; a work for the whole family based on the fairy tale of the same name by Hans Christian Andersen and set to music by the Finnish composer Tuomas Kantelinen. "The Snow Queen has always been one of my favourite fairy tales - it is a wondrous exaltation of love, as well as the innocence and power of children," explains Greve. Assisting in the creation of the fairy tale world are costume designer Erika Turunen and lighting designer Mikki Kunttu.

The season's third premiere on 15 February 2013 features an ensemble of contemporary dance; named from a work by the choreographer Jiří Kylián entitled Bella Figura.  One of Kylián's most recognized works, Bella Figura is a testament to the naked beauty of the human body, set to a slow hypnotic score from Baroque composers like Vivaldi and Pergolesi.  The opening piece of the performance, George Balanchine's 1946 work The Four Temperaments was inspired by the Middle Age notion that human character is composed of four separate elements. Music for string orchestra and piano from Paul Hindemith accompanies the neo-classic piece. William Forsythe, the master of deconstruction, originally created his work In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated for the Paris Opera Ballet in 1987. The work is one of Forsythe's most praised short ballets, with music from the Dutch composer Thom Willems.

The season programme also includes such favourites as John Cranko's beloved Romeo and Juliet and Sir Kenneth MacMillan's sensual Manon. The autumn also contains the popular Dance with Dancers club event, workshops presenting the dancers' choreography skills, and the contemporary dance festival I Love NYKY, featuring Finland's most intriguing contemporary choreography. In addition, the Dance Schools' Palette of Contemporary Dance event in November gathers dance schools from all corners of Finland to Helsinki to perform in the Almi Hall.

Visit by Boston Ballet

The Finnish National Ballet has invited Boston Ballet, one of the most prominent ballet companies in North America, to visit Finland for the first time. Led by Finnish-born Artistic Director Mikko Nissinen since 2001, Boston Ballet will present three performances on the main stage of a quadruple bill featuring neo-classical ballet and contemporary dance.

The programme includes Plan to B by Finnish-born Jorma Elo, Boston Ballet Resident Choreographer since 2005. Premiered in 2004, it has never before been performed in Finland. The programme also features Polyphonia by Christopher Wheeldon to music by György Ligeti, Tsukiyo by Helen Pickett to music by Arvo Pärt, and The Second Detail by William Forsyth to music by Thom Willems. Boston Ballet visit is sponsored by the Jane and Aatos Erkko Foundation.

Nissinen and Elo are alumni of Finnish National Ballet School and both joined the Finnish National Ballet in 1977. They both continued on to successful, international careers as dancers and later as Artistic Director and renowned choreographer.