The line of democracy

The red
line is a symbol of democracy. On the 15th and 16th of
March of 1907, every citizen in Finland aged 24 and over was able to go to the
nearest village to put a red line in the box of their choice on a ballot paper.
It was the first time universal suffrage was enacted in the parliamentary
elections and was also the first time in Europe that women were given an
unrestricted right to vote.

In 1909, writer Ilmari Kianto dramatized these events in his social
drama Punainen Viiva (The Red Line). The novel became one of
the main stories in Finnish culture. In 1978, Aulis Sallinen premiered an opera
of two acts based upon it and became a great success in Helsinki, Savonlinna,
Stockholm, Saint Petersbourg, London and New York. It remained as one of the
greatest contemporary Finnish operas marking a period of opera renaissance in Finland.
At the time of its premiere at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York, in
1983, critic Donal Henahan wrote for the New
York Times
: “
To
be quick about it, Aulis Sallinen's The
Red Line
is the best new opera I have heard in many a year.”{mosimage}

To celebrate the 100th anniversary of those first universal elections
and the Finnish Parliament, the Finnish National Opera just premiered a new
production of The Red Line, directed
by Pekka Milonoff and conducted by Mikko Franck.

As Kianto’s novel, the libretto of The
Red Line
tell about Topi, a poor crofter that lives with his wife Riika and
his children in the bleak north Finnish backwoods.
They are beset by a marauding bear
and oppressed by an indifferent society. An agitator whips up support for
social democracy by telling people that if they draw a red line on a ballot
paper, they will be free from oppressed misery. But it is a promise that will
not happen and the bear will return.

Director
Pekka Milonoff describes the story as having relevance even today: “Rapid
changes, globalization, decision-making moving ever further away from the
people: all these things erode our belief in an individual being able to make a
difference.” Aulis Sallinen too does not think the opera is outdated: “Free
elections, self-evident here, are anything but self-evident in many places in
the world today. One of the main themes of the opera is the manipulating of
human minds. There are several spheres of power involved, vying for control
over the souls of men.”

{mosimage}Touching music

Without
sounding derivative, the music of Punainen
Viiva
combines different styles. The orchestra during these performances
will be conducted by Mikko Franck. It will be his final production as general
music director of the Finnish National Opera after he recently resigned due to
differences of opinion within the management. Franck, who is only 27, was the
youngest conductor appointed to that position. As a matter of fact, he was not
even born when Sallinen premiered this opera for the very first time.

“The last
scene is very touching”, admits Franck about The Red Line. “When that last scene comes, one wonders how this
tough guy can conduct the orchestra without crying.

As in 1978,
the main role of Topi will be played by Jorma Hynninen. He is one of the
greatest baritone singers in Finland. During the 1980s and ‘90s he made guest
appearances at many of the world’s esteemed opera houses, including the
Metropolitan in New York. Hynninen admits that, “It feels good to be in the
same role as it brings lots of memories.” However, he sees this new production
like a different approach to the story: “Different directors have different
ways and Pekka includes more happy and relaxed moments.”