Sallinen: The King Goes Forth to France

LABELS: Ondine
WORKS: The King Goes Forth to France
PERFORMER: Tommi Hakala, Jyrki Korhonen, Riikka Rantanen, Lilli Paasikivi, Mari Palo, Laura Nykänen, Jyrki Anttila, Herman Wallén, Santeri Kinnunen;
Helsinki PO/Okko Kamu


The third of the Finnish composer Aulis Sallinen’s six operas, The King Goes Forth to France is also the most consciously international in its outlook. A joint commission between the Savonlinna Opera Festival (where it was premiered in 1984), the BBC and Covent Garden (where it was staged in 1987, in a production by Nicholas Hytner, no less), the story is a contemporary fantasy inspired by the Hundred Years War but set in an England threatened by a new ice age. It has been aptly described as ‘a fairy tale for grown ups’, and has lost nothing of its resonance: the protagonist starts out as an idealist and ends up as a power-crazed, war-mongering tyrant.

The music, some of Sallinen’s strongest, still stands up extremely well. The composer has a witty way of evoking the ceremonial moments in a sort of modern pomp and circumstance. The black comedy is rooted in the score, and there is sweep and pace – in short, the opera shows Sallinen’s innate theatricality. Kamu, who conducted the premiere, takes authoritative charge here of a recording based on a concert performance last year in Helsinki. The four leading female roles (two Carolines and two Annes) are cast with strongly characterised voices, Jyrki Korhonen discloses a resonant bass as the Prime Minister, and Tommi Hakala brings a virile baritone to the title role.


John Allison