Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Rautavaara's Opera "Kavos (The Mine)" Engages Early High-Modernism

Rautavaara, I am discovering, is a composer of some depth and breadth. His 1962 opera Kaivos (The Mine) (Ondine 1174-2) illustrates this to me. It involves a dramatic story set "somewhere in Europe" in the '50s. A group of miners engage in an illegal strike. They are directed by outside forces but find that while those forces have managed to set things in motion, they cannot give the miners support to see the action through. The leaders of the strike are left at the crossroads. Give up, fight on to a probable death? As Rautavaara states in the liner notes, the universal theme of human choice in the midst of crisis is dramatically played out.

The performance on this disk is the first on CD and follows the first and only staging of the work thus far.

Musically there is a definite early high-modernist feel to this music. Think of Berg's masterpiece Wozzeck and you wont be far from the expressionistic aspects of the drama as it unfolds vocally and orchestrally. Soloists, chorus and the Tampere Philharmonic do a fine job realizing the score.

It gives you another take on the music of Rautavaara. I don't know at this point in my exploration of his music quite where this one fits in within the overall trajectory of his complete opus. I must say I found the music compelling, the orchestral score quite moving, the vocal roles maximally dramatic. It is a work of some complexity and I will need to experience it a number of times more to get a full grasp of it. Those who favor Rautavaara's music will probably find it indispensable. Modern opera buffs will find it worthy. Others must listen and decide for themselves.

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