Opera Scotland

Juha

Music
Aarre Merikanto (born Helsinki, 29 June 1893; died Helsinki, 29 September 1958)

Text
Aïno Ackté-Jalander.

Source
Novel (1911) by Juhani Aho (1861-1921).

Premieres
First performance: Finnish Radio 1958. Lahti (Concert Hall), 28 October 1963.
First UK performance: Edinburgh (King’s Theatre), 28 August 1987.
First performance in Scotland: As above.
Scottish Opera première: N/A.

Background
The version of Juha composed by Merikanto has an involved history. He was the son of a successful composer-musician and was sent to study in Germany and Russia. The result was that his musical ideas were too advanced for the taste of officialdom in Finnish music. Aïno Ackté (1876-1944) was a successful singer with an international career behind her (she was the first performer of Salome in London in 1910), and in 1938 she became, briefly, director of the Finnish National Opera. She prepared a libretto from the novel, and Merikanto worked on it in 1920-22. However this opera was rejected by management and the libretto was eventually given by Ackté to a more conservative composer, Leevi Madetoja (1887-1947), whose first opera, The Ostrobothnians, had already been staged. His version of Juha was a success in 1935. Merikanto composed no more operas and descended into embittered alcoholism. Only after his death was his version performed. To audiences accustomed to the style of Janáček’s work, Merikanto’s is immediately attractive and dramatically effective. The loss of works he might, with more encouragement, have composed is clearly a tragedy for the development of Finnish opera.

Main Characters
Juha, a Finnish backwoods farmer (baritone)
Marja, his wife (soprano)
Kaisa, a hired girl on Juha’s farm (soprano)
Mother-in-law, Juha’s mother (mezzo-soprano)
Shemeikka, a prosperous Karelian merchant (tenor)
Anja, one of Shemeikka’s summer brides (soprano)

Plot Summary
The setting is Northern Finland and Karelia in the late 1880s. Juha has married a woman much younger than himself, and she is unhappy, due to her boredom and an inability to get on with Juha’s mother. When Shemeikka, a travelling merchant, makes his regular call, he is offered hospitality by Juha, and repays this by seducing his wife, and she leaves with him. At Shemeikka’s home, Marja discovers she is one of a succession of girls he has brought home over the years. When he tires of them they are kept on as servants. She would like to go back to Juha, but cannot because of her pregnancy. Juha arrives, searching for Marja, just as Shemeikka and his men return from another trip. He has a new girl in tow and ignores Marja. Back at his home, Juha still misses Marja, and chooses not to believe his mother’s statement that she had gone freely rather than being abducted. When Marja arrives Juha discovers about her baby, whom she has left with Shemeikka, and he encourages her to go back with him to collect it. Shemeikka taunts Juha, who attacks him. To prevent Juha from killing Shemeikka, Anja tells him that Marja had originally left him willingly. Marja confesses this is the truth. Juha is shocked at the betrayal and throws himself into the rapids.

The Cast

Akuliina
 a house servant
Anja
 one of Shemeikka's summer brides
First Tar-Maker
 from Savo
Juha
 a backwoods farmer
Kaisa
 hired girl on Juha's farm
Kala-Matti
 a fisherman
Marja
 Juha's young wife
Maura
 another
Mother-in-law
 Juha's mother
Nasti
 and yet another
Second Tar-Maker
 from Savo
Serahviina
 Shemeikka's Russian bride
Shemeikka
 a prosperous Karelian merchant
Shemeikka's mother
 

© Copyright Opera Scotland 2017

Site by SiteBuddha