FinlandAndrew LLOYD WEBBER Oopperan Kumitus (The Phantom of the Opera). Soloists, Finnish National Opera Chorus and Orchestra and Finnish National Ballet. Nick Davies (conductor).Finnish National Opera, Helsinki 15.9.2015 (GF)
Christine Daaé – Sofie Asplund
Phantom – Ville Rusanen
Raoul, Vicomte de Chagny – Tero Harjunniemi
Monsieur Firmin – Sauli Tiilikainen
Monsieur André – Juha Riihimäki
Carlotta Giudicelli – Hanna-Leena Haapamäki
Madame Giry – Päivi Nisula
Ubaldo Piangi – Mika Pohjonen
Monsieur Reyer – Jarmo Ojala
Meg Giry – Elli Vallinoja
Joseph Buquet, stage manager – Robert McLoud
Director: Tiina Puumalainen
Sets: Teppo Järvinen
Costumes: Marjaana Mutanen
Choreographer: Osku Heiskanen
Lighting design: Timo Alhanen
Sound design: Andreas “Stanley” Lönnquist, Sakari Kiiski
It is almost incomprehensible that it was almost 30 years since The Phantom of the Opera was premiered at Her Majesty’s Theatre in London’s West End on 9 October 1986 and is still running there in the original production. Almost five years ago performance number 10,000 and probably it will continue for quite some time. Replica productions have been seen in at least 30 other countries. The Finnish National Opera is one of the very few theatres that have been granted the right to stage it in a completely new production – and with the resources of a full-scale opera house with a big orchestra and chorus and the National Opera’s ballet. Having seen the West End production as well as the Stockholm production at Oscar’s Theatre I was naturally very curious to see a completely new concept, and though the memory has faded away after more than twenty years I could recall a few scenes that were exceptional, not least the misty boat-rides deep under the opera house.
The Finnish National Opera’s approach has, however, its own magic and the size of the stage and the large auditorium creates a monumentality that is hard to beat. Gigantic mobile staircases give an extra dimension to the vertical transportations in the opera house. I won’t spoil the experience for those who feel tempted to visit Helsinki by revealing the various solutions in crucial scenes. Suffice it to say that, although there is a great deal of commotion and stage business, in particular in the first act, the production is homogenous and purposeful and the characters are well chiselled out to individual of flesh and blood, characters that are believable. The Phantom himself is of course an enigmatic person, more some otherworldly monster reigning over (and under) the opera house. But he turns out to have very human, very understandable feelings and I believe there were many who left the performance with a lump in the throat, contemplating his cruel fate and possibly finding parallels in our day, whether in their own private life or in the world at large. I have always found that Lloyd Webber’s expressive and catchy melodies make the Phantom feel real.
This Phantom of the Opera is sung in the original English with surtitles in Finnish and Swedish. I wouldn’t have minded English surtitles as well, since there are noisy scenes where the orchestra drenches the voices, even though all the actors are discreetly amplified. Their English is generally good, which it is nowadays in all the Nordic countries. I suspect that the members of the Finnish National Opera Orchestra not normally play this kind of music but the sound they produced was in every way idiomatic and they had more punch than the regular musical theatre orchestras. Rarely have the strings sung more lovingly in the romantic scenes and the brass blared more brilliantly. The chorus and ballet were also in fine shape. Nick Davies can feel proud of his forces.
When it comes to the soloists they are also a fine team. Maybe Sofie Asplund is the true star. Her Christine is certainly lovely and is to my mind in the Sarah Brightman division. This young soprano, born in the island of Åland, studied at the University College of Opera in Stockholm and has sung leading roles in Stockholm, Gothenburg and other places. She has a slivery, light voice and sings with great warmth. She is also an enchanting actor. Ville Rusanen, who has had an international career for some years, has all the intensity needed for the Phantom and he dominates the stage whenever he enters. He is powerful and sometimes adopts a slightly raw timbre, not unsuitable for the role, but he can also caress beautiful tunes with velvety tone. Tero Harjunniemi’s Raoul has a sonorous lyric tenor.
Some of the National Opera’s permanent singers appear in character roles. Veterans Sauli Tiilikainen and Juha Riihimäki make the most of the boisterous new owners of the opera house and Päivi Nisula is a characterful Madame Giry. As the Italian star tenor Ubaldo Piangi former tango king Mika Pohjonen is well cast. Last time I saw him was as Walther von Stolzing in Wagner’s Meistersinger. He seems actually more involved in the rather parodical Italian role.
All in all this is a wholly engaging production that should be seen by everyone with an interest in first class West End musicals. This autumn is already sold out but hopefully there will still be possible to secure tickets for the spring 2016. Go and see it! It’s worth every Euro.