Rautavaara: Kaivos (The Mine)

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COMPOSERS: Rautavaara
LABELS: Ondine
WORKS: Kaivos (The Mine)
PERFORMER: Hannu Niemelä, Johanna Rusanen-Kartano, Jorma Hynninen, Jaakko Kortekangas, Mati Turi, Petri Pussila, Tuomas Katajala; Kaivos Chorus; Tampere PO/Hannu Lintu
CATALOGUE NO: ODE 1174-2

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Einojuhani Rautavaara’s first opera, which he regards as his best, could not have resurfaced at a more timely moment. This 75-minute, three-Act dramatic parable, inspired by the 1956 Hungarian uprising, resonates with all the ambiguities of the ‘ruthless claims of freedom’ surging through the Middle East today. And the existential questions, driven by Rautavaara’s study of Sartre in the 1960s, are now more thought-provoking than ever.
 
These questions become a deadly game – as much one of individual choices as of political dilemmas. And they are articulated in the powerful expressionistic 12-tone language of Rautavaara’s 1960s writing. How the subject matter has played a significant part in limiting the performance history of the opera is explained in Kimmo Korhonen’s valuable accompanying essay.
 
The opera still awaits staging: it was televised in 1963, and given a concert performance in Tampere, Finland last September, from which this CD became the opera’s world premiere recording.
 
The Mine of the title is a microcosm of both society and the individual soul – and its inhabitants are cast from strength. The great Jorma Hynninen is in untarnished voice as the dictator figure, The Commissar; the bass Hannu Niemelä is a dark Simon (the former partisan, an ambivalent leader of the rebelling miners); and the mezzo-tinted soprano Johanna Rusanen-Kartano a powerful Ira, his compromised lover.
 
Whether the work (perfect festival fare) travels on will depend on the ability of audiences and directors to engage with a libretto (Rautavaara’s own) which is heavy with dialectic and blurred into portentous poeticising. Hilary Finch