~ Release group by Aulis Sallinen; Tommi Hakala, Jyrki Korhonen, Riikka Rantanen, Lilli Paasikivi, Mari Palo, Laura Nykänen, Jyrki Anttila, Herman Wallén, Santeri Kinnunen, Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra, Okko Kamu
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It's a 'Chronicle for the Music Theatre of the Coming Ice Age'.
The King of England, his four female companions, his Prime Minister and his army flee their ice-bound country by crossing the frozen English Channel on foot, invading France, and reliving the Battle of Crecy and the Siege of Calais on the way to capturing Paris. Brilliant!
A dark yet wickedly funny opera from 1984 with roots somehow simultaneously in the Hundred Years War, the future, and our own environmentally challenged present, with the spectre of an idealistic leader who becomes a corrupt, warmongering tyrant.
Sallinen himself calls it a fairy tale for grown-ups, and supplies some of his most brilliant, theatrically colourful music to date. Much of the humour emanates from the score: the pompous martial undercurrents, the chaos and confusion of battle, the boldness and breadth of the Act 3 Prelude, capturing the encampment outside Calais with a real sense of foreboding...and the kind of bombastically explosive marches that Shostakovich could be proud of, with their satirical bite.
The cast has no weaknesses and is very well balanced - and much the same could be said of the recording. If you heard the opera in English at Covent Garden in 1987, the idea of following it in Finnish may feel daunting, but the language has its own pungency and rhythmic interest, and time passes almost as swiftly as it seems to on stage. Highly recommended, especially to anyone who thinks that contemporary opera has lost the plot...