ALBUM TITLE: Rasputin
PERFORMER: Matti Salminen, Lilli Paasikivi, Jorma Hynninen, Jyrki Anttila; Finnish National Opera Chorus & Orchestra/Mikko Franck; dir. Vilppu Kiljunen (Helsinki 2003)
CATALOGUE NO: ODV 4002
Rasputin is Rautavaara’s tenth opera, if you count his various early mystery plays, and it is clearly the work of someone who knows how to write for the stage. The subject matter – it hardly needs saying – is strong, and Rautavaara’s own libretto divides into three dramatically compelling acts of 50 minutes each. Wisely, perhaps, he stops short of including a Yekaterinburg scene, so the opera ends with Rasputin’s murder and the haemophiliac prince Alexis’s dream of the carnage to come. Rautavaara’s score is ruggedly effective, with all the Russian atmosphere you would expect given the composer’s interest in the Orthodox faith and Finland’s ringside view of Russian history.
Premiered by Finnish National Opera in September 2003, this ambitious work, which has 25 named roles and big scenes for chorus and dancers, was directed effectively enough by Vilppu Kiljunen. His staging is transferred straightforwardly to film, without any extras. But the colossal title role, written for the great Finnish bass Matti Salminen, leaps from the screen compellingly: this part really was tailored to his huge voice and stage presence. A number of other leading Finnish singers give strong performances too, especially Jorma Hynninen and Lilli Paasikivi as Nicholas and Alexandra. There are too many others to list, but everyone down to the adoring rasputinki appears totally involved. John Allison