Suomi and the National Opera: The Language of the Finnish Opera Boom

January 2013
Ars Lyrica: Journal of the Lyrica Society for Word-Music Relatio;2013, Vol. 22, p41
Academic Journal
Just as the music of Jean Sibelius helped to establish Finnish culture under Russian rule, opera became one of the symbols of contemporary national identity that Finland presented to the world during the Cold War. Founded in 1911 during the struggle between Finnish- and Swedish-speaking factions over the creation of a national culture, the Finnish National Opera was instrumental in opera's rise to cultural and political prominence. After the surprise success of Joonas Kokkonen's first opera, The Last Testations (1975), the FNO successfully attempted to both broaden opera's domestic audiences still further and appeal to Finland's influential Social Democrats, by commissioning Aulis Sallinen's The Red Line (1978). These two works also became flagships of Finnish music abroad, when the FNO took them on multiple tours, culminating in a critically acclaimed visit to New York's Metropolitan Opera in 1983. The FNO marketed themselves abroad by emphasizing their unique ability to perform Finnish-language works, and used the international recognition they gained to increase their increase their government support and improve the institution's position at home, transforming opera composition into an emblem of Finnish identity. Lacking political or military power, Finland used its culture to establish itself as an independent member of Western Europe, musically asserting its hard-won independence.


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