Opera based on Sofi Oksanen novel came to Estonian composer in a dream
Jüri Reinvere wrote both music and libretto for Purge
“The best things in life happen accidentally”, says composer Jüri Reinvere, recalling the process that led to the idea of an opera based on Purge, a play and novel by Sofi Oksanen.
A couple of years ago Reinvere and Oksanen were in a bar in Berlin “We started to think about whether or not it might be possible to write an opera based on Purge”, Reinvere says.
Oksanen and Reinvere are united by an Estonian background: Oksanen’s mother is Estonian and Reinvere was born in Estonia and lived there until the age of 18.
Reinvere is relatively unknown in Finland, even though he studied composition here. Oksanen, meanwhile, became a super-celebrity when the theatre production of Purge premiered at the Finnish National Theatre in 2007. A year later it appeared as a novel. Now the play has been produced in Finland, Europe, and America, and a film version will get its premiere in the autumn.
It is hardly any wonder then that Mikko Franck, the artistic director of the Finnish National Opera became interested in the idea. The fact that Reinvere had never composed an opera before did not worry Franck. “Reinvere has a close relationship with Oksanen and to the subject matter of Purge. He was absolutely the most appropriate composer for this opera”, Franck says.
And then there was the dream.
A couple of weeks before Reinvere met Oksanen in Berlin he had a dream in which a completely new kind of music was playing.
“After speaking with Sofi I understood that the music was an opera.”
The work process took more than a year, and Reinvere says that it was “extremely intense”.
“I jumped into it as one person and came out as another. It altered my entire sense of self.”
Reinvere himself wrote both the music and the libretto. “It felt like building a cathedral all by one’s self. Decisions could not be changed later, or the entire building would have started to sway”, he says.
Reinvere says that the opera differs considerably from the book and the play. Even though all of the main characters are the same, opera as an art form has its own requirements.
“It was important that Purge was made an opera from beginning to end. It cannot be an illustration of the book or the play. It has a strange skill. It is simultaneously the truth, and more than the truth”, Reinvere explains.
As Reinvere sees it, the opera Purge examines whether or not a person has the right to make ethically suspect choices while under sufficiently aggressive external pressure.
“If you’ve done wrong for decades, you don’t always know where you’re coming from and where you’re going”, Reinvere says.
In his view the problem does not only affect the former Soviet Union. “The basic questions are the same on both sides of the former iron curtain”, Reinvere says.
This opera is very challenging for the singers – both the soloists and the chorus. The part of the main character Aliide requires a range of two and a half octaves. She is also on stage almost for the full duration of the opera.
Reinvere also wanted to pay homage to classical opera and complete the most important arias. “The most difficult parts come at a point when the main characters have been on stage for 90 minutes.
The orchestra has an especially important role in the opera. It creates the oppressive atmosphere in which the people lived. “Actually, the orchestra is the main character of the whole opera, guiding the characters to act as they do”, Reinvere says.
He admits that he is nervous in anticipation of the premiere on Friday this week. However, he is keeping a cool head.
“One part of my profession is not to be afraid. If one gives in to fear, everything that one is afraid of will happen. It is a person’s own internal purge.”
Previously in HS International Edition:
On location in Estonia at filming of Sofi Oksanen’s Purge (18.10.2011)
Sofi Oksanen´s award-winning Puhdistus to be staged at Finnish National Opera (23.9.2010)
Estonian Foreign Minister weighs in in defence of Sofi Oksanen’s Purge (8.10.2010)
International acclaim for Sofi Oksanen’s Purge annoys some in Estonia (7.10.2010)
Tight schedule for New York theatre production of Sofi Oksanen´s Purge (15.2.2011)