Search - Rautavaara - Rasputin / Salminen, Hynninen, Paasikivi, Franck, Finnish National Opera on DVD

Rautavaara - Rasputin / Salminen, Hynninen, Paasikivi, Franck, Finnish National Opera
Rautavaara - Rasputin / Salminen Hynninen Paasikivi Franck Finnish National Opera
Actors: Matti Salminen, Jorma Hynninen, Lilli Paasikivi
Genres: Music Video & Concerts, Musicals & Performing Arts
NR     2005     2hr 30min


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Movie Details

Actors: Matti Salminen, Jorma Hynninen, Lilli Paasikivi
Genres: Music Video & Concerts, Musicals & Performing Arts
Sub-Genres: Music Video & Concerts, Classical
Studio: ONDINE
Format: DVD - Color - Subtitled
DVD Release Date: 08/09/2005
Theatrical Release Date: 07/11/2005
Release Year: 2005
Run Time: 2hr 30min
Screens: Color
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 2
Edition: Classical
MPAA Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Languages: English, French, German
Subtitles: English, French, German

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Movie Reviews

(5 out of 5 stars)

"It should come as no surprise that Einojuhani Rautavaara is without the shadow of a doubt the best living opera composer of
our times.After being an enfant terrible with his first two operas he consolidated his particular style with his fifth opera called THOMAS in 1985.RASPUTIN has been written in the grand opera style,perhaps a triffle different to the extremely
personal universes that he evoked in his previous two operas,his
capolavoro ALEKSIS KIVI and the "tragedia buffa" THE HOUSE OF THE SUN.In spite of this though the musical style follows the much more melodic vein which characterizes his operas from VINCENT on,permeating the score with a distinguishable russian flavor.
There are great ensembles and monologues for the protagonist(a sweet and soaring description of his native Siberia)for Tsar Nicholas,for the Tsarina Alix and for the conspirator prince Felix Yussupov.A magnificent danced religious
orgy in the first act and a wonderful tavern scene with russian
gypsy melodies inserted in the score,which gives way to an ensemble where the composer makes use of melodic continuos which approximate this opera to the conclusion of ALEKSI KIVI.
Perhaps the only flaw of the score is the lack of dramaticism of
the murder scene in act III,which can be forgiven given the greatness of the rest of the opera.
The mammothical title role has been tailormade for the voice of bass Matti Salminen,one of the best singers of the finnish nation,together with other artists of renowned quality who also
take part in this event.
Of particular interest are baritone Jorma Hynninen as Tsar Nicolai III,mezzosoprano Lili Paasikivi as the troubled Tsarina,
and tenor Jyrki Anttila and baritone Gabriel Suovanen as the conspirators Felix Yussupov and Dmitri Pavlovich.
Mikko Franck conducts the orchetra of the Finnish National Opera.Five stars for this oeuvre d'art which deserves even more.

Rautavaara The Remarkable!
G P Padillo | Portland, ME United States | 10/11/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)

"I don't know why I held off playing the DVD of this new, quite astonishing and gorgeous opera. I've long been a fan of Rautavaara's music and was excited when I learned he was taking on another operatic project and such an exciting one.

The production is gorgeous, a spare rotating stage with set pieces, columns, etc. which more than adequately suggest the scenes, especially so with the ornate set decorations of furniture, mirrors, Icons, etc. appropriate to each scene.

Rautavaara's score sounds, at first hearing anyway, to be just a slight departure from his previous styles. At the outset, there is a strong similarity to Strauss (Elektra, primarily) and Berg (more Lulu than Wozzeck) yet it remains uniquely Rautavaara's own. After the initial "modernism" the score seems to become more tonal as the work goes on. Choral music throughout is reminiscent of all the greats in the Russian tradition. It is as powerful, thrilling a score as I've heard in years.

I've ever heard of mezzo Lili Paasikivi, but, holy God, is this a voice of power, richness, and beauty. The first few minutes of the opera are dominated by her performance as Alexandra and . . . words fail me as to the gloriousness of her sound. It has that intensity so similar in the singing of of Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, but sizably larger - her annunciation (of course I don't understand Finnish) is crisp, precise that, combined with an urgency to her tone is breathtaking. Physically, she reminds me (very strongly) of Anna Tomawa Sintow.

Of course there's the title role which here is sung by Matti Salminen - ah. His first aria is nothing short of astonishing in its beauty. Through amazing scoring, Rautavaara captures the essence of Rasputin and the powerful, hypnotic effect he had on people. The aria builds and builds, sustaining tension throughout, yet with an undulating pulse that flows like the Volga and offers a sense of tranquility that stirs the young hemopheliac son of of the Tsar and Tsarina and then offers him tranquility. It may be the most gorgeous aria written for a basso in 100 years, and Salminen invests every phrase with his trademark plushness of sound and attention to every nuance of the score. The orchestration of the aria is at times transparent, with different sections of the orchestra each weaving over each other in a tapestry of sound that pushes the music forward magically, harps, strings, horns, bells. Amazing.

Rasputin's first aria segues into an entire scene which expands and ends the opera's first scene as the set rises, revealing a religious procession during which Rasputin, priests and rable rousers get the crowd going, self-flagelation, ecstatic ritual dancing explodes into an orgy of sound and vision that is almost demonic in its totality. I was left breathless.

My old favorite Jorma Hynninen, still handsome, still with that voice but both physique and sound are showing a bit of age. He remains an amazing stage creature and his fatalistic, fearful, superstitious religious Nicholas is well thought out and beautifully sung.

As the opera progresses, Rautavaara's score grows in beauty and characterizes all the political social upheaval of the time. (I don't get the review here that said the music goes nowhere . . . I find it quite the opposite). There are so many beautiful musical moments it's almost obscene. The choruses are all one could wish for, the solo scenes, powerful and dramatic the entire thing giving one pause for thought of current global political situations without ever stepping out of the era of Rautavaara's well constructed libretto (is he our modern Wagner?)

Tenor Jyrki Anttila creates one of the opera's most fascinating characters, Felix Yusupov, who while attempting for the hand of the Tzar's neice, is also the subject of rumors for his "unnatural friendship" with young Dmitri. The two are a menace as they plot Rasputin's demise, but Anttila's Felix really almost steals the show. An interesting staging effect occurs when he's brought to Rasputin for "healing" and in his delirium his voice begins coming out over the opera house's loudspeakers, (don't be put off by how that sounds, it really is effective and non-intrusive) and we watch his physical reactions as we hear his inner thoughts. It's theatre magic!

The finale is (as is the entire work) tremendous theatre and as Rasputin's body disappears the streets are filled with Russian people bemoaning their fate, a huge drop of Rasputin's eyes fills the back wall of the stage, and using, once again the house sound system, Rasputin's voice comes back to us from death, predicting endless spilling of blood. As the music reaches it's zenith, all the drop cloths fall from the flies covering everything as a small ensemble representing the Soviet Union to come emerges: the shirtless workers in their coveralls, carrying hammers, a soviet soldiers, a white dressed smiling woman carrying sheaves of wheat, etc., the young man with the hammer smiling and pointing to the future. It was positively chilling.

Vilppu Kiljunen deserves some sort of award for his direction, which was tight, served the music about as perfectly as possible and made for amazing viewing.

I have heard damning praise that the work isn't "intellectual" enough in its approach. Well, I don't go to the opera for intellectual works, but rather to feel and hear and see. Besides, I can think of fewer stories in need of intellectualism than Rasputin. His hold on the public was emotional, spiritual and mystical and in that Rautavaara gives us all I wanted . . . and more.

I get the sinking feeling (I wonder why) Rasputin won't do too well in the States, but damn, it's one of the most exciting new things I've seen in years. The score pushes tonality to the brink, but is never less than beautiful. It's a big opera requiring a huge orchestra (lots of good percussive effects and a beautiful on-stage piano solo which works its way into the tapestry of the score). I think it would play well as a certain Metropolitan Opera House in New York.
Am I going to die without ever seeing an exciting new opera?
John | Berlin, Germany | 09/13/2005
(3 out of 5 stars)

"Einojuhani Rautavaara is the foremost and most respected contemporary Finnish composer, from a country that also gave us Sibelius. He has also been labeled a neo-romantic and a mystic. The little of his instrumental music that I was familiar with I liked. I also knew that he had written several operas before, although I was not familiar with them. Needless to say, from a composer with that resume behind him I was expecting an opera comparable to works of a Britten, a Shostakovich or a Prokofiev. Alas, that was not the case. In the past 10 or so years I have regularly been disappointed with contemporary operas. After John Adams' Nixon in China I haven't seen anything on stage that I find if not exciting at least not totally boring. Being a contemporary composer myself, I believe that a bad score can kill the best libretto (Heggie's Dead Man Walking), but a not so brilliant libretto can survive if the score is good (Tchaikovsky's Queen of Spades). There are countless examples of that in the history of music. And then you have the rare combination of great libretto and great music like Verdi's Otello.
Rautavaara's Rasputin is not as bad as, let's say, Tod Macchover's excruciatingly dull and uninformed (musically speaking only) Resurrection, or Deborah Drattel's ridiculous flop based on the same story of Rautavaara's opera called Nicholas and Alexandra. At least the Finnish composer can compose and orchestrate like a professional, and he has done his research. The libretto of this opera despite room for a lot of dramatic improvement is not too bad. There is very little humor in it, which is a pitty, since the main character was one of the most (unwillingly) amusing historical characters who ever roamed this planet. The real historical events were actually a lot more interesting than the somewhat watered-down or speculatively altered versions of them that ended up in this libretto. A pitty! The performances are overall excellent and the staging and acting are also quite good.
My main problem is with the music which never seems to take off. It never develops into climaxes. If anything exciting starts to happen on stage the drums start to bang out of the blue. One has a constant feeling that the people are acting to some rather unrelated background music. There is no variety in the music whatsoever. The whole score throughout is this rather luscious, smooth and round romantic mash potato, with constantly legato bass-lines, that just gets soft or loud. No rhythmic variety, period! The smooth quality quickly wears off after the first number. The Khlisty orgy scene is so poor and tame when one compares it to the unbelievably exciting music Shostakovich wrote in his Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk to depict rape or orgies. The poor audience member sits there for three hours in vain waiting for the music to take off. It will not! By the way, have you ever heard Russian Gypsy music? Some of the funnest music ever composed. I should disagree with the previous reviewer who said that Rautavaara used real Gypsy tunes in his opera. According to the DVD booklet, the composer studied Russian Gypsy tunes, but then decided not to use them and write his own original tunes. Very bad decision indeed! His Gypsy music sounds like a slow funeral march from some communist cantata honoring Stalin or Lenin. There is not a hint of a dance rhythm or anything. It's thickly scored and as slow and boring as the rest of the opera. I don't mean that all Gypsy music is fast and bouncy. But at this point the opera definitely needed some music that moved a bit. Unfortunately the composer didn't share the same feeling. Perhaps I should give it a lower rating than 3 stars. But this man is a learned composer. I reserve the 1 star (since doesn't provide us with the no star option) for the likes of Drattel and Macchover."
Gowdie | New York | 07/20/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)

"I've long admired the music of the Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara, and this opera "Rasputin" is just another great masterpiece of his.
Rautavaara has been often judged unfairly for his extremes in the use of tonality and that it suposedly limits his expression as an artist. If anyone knows anything about the arts in general, the fact is that one must look beyond the notes, the brush strokes, the scrapes and see the overall picture these little things present as a whole work. Rautavaara proves this case very well with this opera.
As is common in his operas, Rautavaara, who writes his own Libretti, explores the personalities of his lead characters as part of the story through great big monologues. This technique is nothing new in opera. Richard Wagner uses this to a T in all of his works. But unlike Wagner, Rautavaara is able to make the story delvelop at the same time. It doesn't just sit like rock in order to show off the ability of the singer, but rather, the story flows as we learn more about the characters and their developing predicament. Add to this, the great music which works exactly in the same way, and you've got yourself a masterpiece!
The part of Rasputin was written for the great bass Matti Salminen, who at age 60 has not diminished in vocal quality whatsoever. Given his overall great voice and his unique way of attacking great high notes at key moments throughout, Salminen is simply the best bass singer around today. Other great singers in this opera include the Mezzo Lilli Paasikivi as the Czarina Alexandra and the Baritone Jorma Hynninen as Czar Nicholas. Both of whom give great performances as the troubled couple dealing with a hardship of a soon to be communist Russia.
As you can tell, I love this work very much. May it have the same life as the classics!"