OPERA / Fury in Finland: Raymond Monelle on the Savonlinna Opera Festival in Finland, revived in 1967

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The Independent Culture
A sea-plane drones overhead. You saunter along the side of a lake amid the pines, passing rows of ancient steamers, some of them with tall funnels, masts and yards of the last century. Joining crowds of people in the warmth of the Finnish summer evening, you cross a bridge of boats, entering a medieval castle, the impressive setting for the Savonlinna Opera Festival, which takes place in an inner courtyard that has been roofed over with plastic sheets and tightly packed with thousands of seats. Open-air venues set certain problems for the repertoire. You cannot do intimate or bourgeois works; prisons, strongholds and magical ambiences suit the surroundings best.

Verdi's Macbeth is was an obvious choice. It was, however, a first for this unique festival, which was revived in 1967 after a silence that had lasted since 1930. The designer of the current production, Anneli Qveflander, used the space brilliantly, bringing props and even singers up through the floor of the stage and suspending an enormous crown, etched with skulls and bones, over the whole action. Apart from this there was very little scenery, so that the director, Ralf Langbacka, was able to stack his chorus, soldiers and witches, right across the enormous stage in craggy and pulsating groups.

The combination of Cynthia Makris as Lady Macbeth with Jorma Hynninen as a tentative and scared Macbeth gave a vital slant. Makris swept in, in full flood of vivid dramatic tone, her coloratura expressing a kind of devil-possession; at last, reduced to a crazed sleepwalker, her notes seemed to stick in her throat for hatred, the tone rising from horrified croak to drunken wail, cracking terribly across the registers.

Hynninen, an elegant and formed singer, was never going to be a determined or bloodthirsty conspirator. His notes tended to cloud over into mezza voce, almost gasping in horror. His final aria - 'Mal per me'- was grave, elegiac, the excellently firm conductor Leif Segerstam timing it with the inevitability of a funeral march.

The other characters slotted well into this balance of fearful reflection and crazed bloodlust. Peter Lindroos, as Macduff, sang with a sentiment, even a sweetness, that made him seem pensive rather than angry; and the patriarchal Banquo of Jaakko Ryhanen was firmly paced, massive, and monumental.

The other operas this year were Poulenc's La Voix Humaine, sung by Kaisa Hannula in a smaller venue, as well as The Magic Flute and Fidelio. Both of the latter were revivals; the Beethoven is a staple work for this setting, though August Everding's production dates only from last year. It is not very inventive; Matti Salminen's gammy leg, which was genuine and caused him to walk with a stick, seemed like an inspiration of symbolism in these dull surroundings (he was a genial and sonorous Rocco, the only memorable voice in a limited cast).

The 20-year-old Flute production, also by Everding, had nothing more than the perfunctory mixture of pretty scenery and clowning that were once thought enough for this elusive piece. The performance was cursed with a conductor, Hans Graf, who was unable to put any rhythmic bones into the music; singers got slower and slower, only Jaakko Ryhanen as Sarastro and Jorma Silvasti as Tamino seeming really adequate. These two operas were unworthy alongside the stunning Verdi or the beautiful surroundings.

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