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22 Sep 2010

Purge to premiere at the Finnish National Opera in 2012

Opera by Jüri Reinvere based on the novel by Sofi Oksanen


Purge, an opera based on the award-winning novel by Sofi Oksanen, is to be premiered in Helsinki in April 2012. The opera is being written by Estonian-born composer Jüri Reinvere, who will also write the libretto. Reinvere, the Finnish National Opera and publishers Fennica Gehrman have signed a commissioning agreement, and the work is scheduled for completion next year.

"When this opera project was pitched, I was immediately captivated, and we reached an agreement very quickly. I believe that Sofi Oksanen's powerful novel provides excellent material for an opera. Jüri Reinvere is one of the most interesting composers in his generation, and I think this work will make a fine addition to the repertoire of the FNO," says Artistic Director of the Opera Mikko Franck. "New operas play an important part in what we do. By the time we premiere Purge, it will be the third world premiere at the FNO within an 18-month period," he adds.

Jüri Reinvere and Sofi Oksanen have been working on the opera version of Purge for more than a year. It was originally to have been premiered at the Estonia Theatre in Tallinn as part of the Culture Capital 2011 programme, but in June this year it was reported that the project had fallen through. "Ever since my first discussions with Sofi Oksanen, I have outlined an opera with two extremely powerful leading women and an overwhelming orchestral sound. It is fascinating to build an opera from a compelling drama; the leading roles will be very interesting yet very challenging for the performers," the composer says.

Like Oksanen's original novel, the opera will reflect the history of Estonia during Soviet rule through the tragic experiences of the women of one family. Jüri Reinvere's sensitive and poetic musical idiom, which transcends musical genres, will provide an interesting contrast to Oksanen's wrenching drama. Reinvere and Finnish-Estonian writer Oksanen share a personal connection to the themes explored in Purge: "We are both grandchildren of political violence," Reinvere summarises.

There are other connections too: "I wrote some of the material for the novel at Jüri's kitchen table in Berlin, and now he is writing an opera on the same story in the same space. It seems to be a productive place to be for these characters," Sofi Oksanen says with amusement. "I am pleased to be breaking new ground with Jüri. We work well together, since we have coinciding views and experiences."

Published in 2008, the novel Purge has won several literary awards in Finland besides becoming an international success. Recently, Oksanen received the literature prize of the Nordic Council of Ministers, and the French bookstore chain Fnac selected Purge as its Novel of the Year. Moreover, the book has been shortlisted for the Prix Femina and Prix Médicis in France. To date, Purge has been published in 14 countries, with rights sold to 31 language areas. A film is also being planned.

The opera Purge will be performed in Finnish and Estonian. The world premiere will involve the Chorus and Orchestra of the FNO; the soloists, conductor and production team are to be announced later.

Jüri Reinvere

Composer Jüri Reinvere (b. 1971) studied at the upper secondary music school in Tallinn and the Chopin Academy in Warsaw, and with Veli-Matti Puumala and Tapio Nevanlinna at the Sibelius Academy from 1994 to 2004, graduating with a Master of Music degree. Pianist Käbi Laretei has been an important mentor for him.

Reinvere's output spans a number of styles and genres. He also writes poetry that he frequently combines with his music. Often there is a theatrical or visual element in his compositions. Stylistically he ranges from modernism to neo-naivism, and he uses a wide variety of techniques. His opera Purge will be premiered at the Finnish National Opera in April 2012. His earlier major works include the radio opera Vastaskallas (2001-2004), the ballets Dialog I (2002) and Luft-Wasser-Erde-Feuer-Luft (2003), and the Requiem (2009).

Reinvere's philosophical poetry explores the themes of memory and time, and the legacy of post-Soviet societies. He has been writing in English since 2007. He has also written articles and essays for the Estonian and Finnish Broadcasting Companies. He has produced and written documentary films and translated and co-written books, for instance the article compilation Kaiken takana oli pelko (Behind everything there was fear, 2009). Author Sofi Oksanen has described Jüri Reinvere as "a true cosmopolitan with Estonian roots".

Jüri Reinvere received a prize at the international UNESCO composer rostrum in Paris in 2000 and 2006 and the Estonian Ministry of Culture prize in 2001. He has been living and working in Berlin since 2005.