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16 Dec 2010

Centennial Finnish National Opera reaches out to young people

A free performance at the opera for 7,000 teens during the 2011 anniversary year

The Finnish National Opera (FNO) will celebrate its one hundredth birthday in 2011. In honour of the advent of a new and fruitful century of performances, the FNO and the Finnish Cultural Foundation have joined forces to make it possible for 7,000 seventh graders (13-14 year olds) to attend a complimentary opera performance.

Young people from 177 schools were chosen in an impartial drawing. Great interest was shown in the drawing last fall, with over 17,000 young people and 405 schools indicating their desire to participate. The drawing set out to choose a good balance of schools from all corners of Finland.  Indeed, the entire country is well represented in the final result: young people from 136 different localities will visit Helsinki for an FNO opera performance, with the farthest visitors travelling some 1,300 kilometres from Utsjoki in Finnish Lapland. 

The opera tickets and travel expenses of the students and their teacher supervisors have been financed by the Finnish Cultural Foundation.  The FNO for its part offers teachers instructional material they can use in the classroom to prepare the students for their opera experience.   

Anja Lehtonen, a teacher from central Finland, will accompany her students to the performance. "It is rare that we are presented with such an extraordinary opportunity," she commented in her local newspaper Sisä-Savo. A seventh-grade young man from northern Finland had this to say in his local gazette Koillissanomat, "I have never been to Helsinki. It will be great to see the capital city and visit the opera for the first time."

The young people will attend the Finnish National Opera at different times throughout 2011.  The entire house has been reserved for the teens for three productions of the new FNO opera Robin Hood and one production of The Barber of Seville.  A certain quota of seats has also been reserved for the students at 2011 FNO performances of The Magic Flute, Isän tyttö (Daddy's Girl), La Cenerentola, Il trittico, Das Rheingold and Boris Godunov

Target: more boys in the opera auditorium, Robin Hood to premiere in January

Another FNO investment in young people is its commission of a brand new full-length opera: Robin Hood. The adventure opera about the Sherwood Forest outlaw will premiere on Finnish National Opera's main stage on 14 January 2011. 

The idea of an adventure opera designed to interest families was the result of the collaboration between Artistic Director of the Opera Mikko Franck and the composer Jukka Linkola. "We considered several different subjects before we decided on Robin Hood. We wanted a story that could provide several diverse layers of narrative in order to deliver an opera that would truly interest the whole family. I can guarantee there will be lots of action and wildly dangerous scenarios!  I believe that Robin Hood will really reach out to an audience group that may have previously been oblivious to opera - young boys," explains Franck.

The starring role of the Finnish-language opera rendition of Robin Hood will be sung by Ville Rusanen and Markus Nieminen, performing on different nights. The sheriff will likewise be sung by Matti Salminen and Jyrki Korhonen, and the role of Marian will be sung by Mari Palo and Kaisa Ranta.

The opera was composed by Jukka Linkola and the libretto was penned by the Finnish language virtuoso Jukka Virtanen. Kari Heiskanen is responsible for the dramatization and direction of the production.  Employing every modern trick and technique, the complex staging of the performance was designed by Kati Lukka, while the costumes were fashioned by Marja Uusitalo. The accomplished Mikki Kunttu was in charge of lighting design. Mikko Franck and Kurt Kopecky will share the conductor's podium, conducting alternate performances.