Saturday, 14 December 2013

Night at the opera

With any luck this blog has nurtured your stomachs. And perhaps, occasionally provided something to feast your eyes on as well? But nurturing one's soul is equally important.

Though I've made a habit about educating myself at the opera across the bay, my visits to Finnish National Opera have been embarrassingly rare (three times. Ever.) My last visit was Nutcracker, that charming ballet that has been a staple at the pre-Christmas calendar year after year and even that was five years ago.

And though I've managed to bag some serious opera classics in Tallinn, one of my life-long dreams has been seeing Puccini's Turandot. And hear Nessun Dorma live. And so one Wednesday I treated myself to a night at the opera. And boys and girls, there are so many worse ways to spend a night.

I still remember my childhood visits to the theatre and the sound they played to notify the audience about the show about to begin. And I can still feel the excitement that started to build inside of me (And I remember the fancy clothes that had been brought out for the occasion. And the Danish during the interval - all of which made me feel so special and wordly!) Still today one of my favourite moments in Tallinn is walking through the park and hearing the sounds of the orchestra tuning their instruments echoing through the park right before the evening's show is about to start. And still today that causes my insides to bubble with giddiness.

There are operas one goes to see because of the heartbreaking love story such as La Bohéme (in Opera's calendar next spring!). And operas the music of which everyone recognizes (such as Carmen (from this autumn's selection). Then there are operas one goes to see because of one song - because of one, less than 5-minute moment. This is that opera.

I'm not even going to pass myself off as an cultural encyclopedia so that particular aria, Nessun Dorma, only found its way to my vocabulary at the World Cup Italy hosted in 1990 (how else). It became even bigger hit in the following decade during the sell out performances by the three tenors. And even the rest fell in love with it in 2007 with Britain's got Talent's Paul Pott's rendition.

Perhaps because of the above mentioned Cinderella story that aria has for me stood for dreams coming true. Not knowing any Italian myself I must admit I've never been terribly aware of the actual content of the said aria or the opera itself. Sure I've caught myself singing it but resulting from lack of proficiency in Italan in a... well, a rather onomatopoetic manner- "Neessun dooorma, principeessa, sileencio, injeera". The ethymologically not very gifted part of me has probably genuinely thought that's what it's about: a princess eating Ethiopian flatbread in silence.

Luckily at the opera one can follow the story unfold through the subtitles above the stage. So now I know that relentlessly pursuing one's dreams is exactly what the opera is all about. That and a cruel, cold princess who ruthlessly has her suitors decapitated following their failure to solve the impossible riddles she asks them. A cruel, cold princess whose beauty dazzles one stranger who, having nothing but his love to guide him, sets out to make the impossible happen: to win the princess' heart. Oooh and aaaah.

Along the lines of my previous operatic experiences the happy end is preceded by complications and the bloodshed of the innocents but what a powerful performance it is! And one that is impossible to get through without tears. That was the understanding at my row anyway. It actually prompted one sneaker-wearing baggy trouser to spontaneously break out into "woohoooo!"

Initially I was a tad skeptic about Mika Pohjonen as the leading man, the love-struck Calaf. In the first act his voice sounded flat and thin but as the show went on his voice grew to reach amazing force and Nessun Dorma, starting so gently, embraced the audience with unbelievable conviction. Anna-Kristiina Kaappola's performance as the slave girl Liú was nothing short of phenomenal - her voice so clear and clean. In addition to tears and shivers it was received with a standing ovation.

Finnish National Opera wants to provide cultural epiphanies to everyone and half price tickets are available to several groups. Viewers with special needs are taken into consideration as well: today for instance there were two sign language interpreters to convey the magic to the hearing impaired. 

Turandot runs until the end of the year - I highly recommend you book your tickets straight away. The last show is on New Year's eve. Just think about it: can you think of a more festive way to kick start your celebration? A gift card to the opera also makes a fantastic gift - what a wonderful way to spoil yourself (or someone almost as important!)

While you're at it, I also recommend you read about the options for interval refreshments and book a table. The selection is varied and the presentation beautiful. Dietary restrictions are well catered for too!

I had the priviledge of sampling the selection with the charming maître d´Miska Mustonen. The selection changes according to what's in season and emphasis is on the local produce. One of the things I like about good restaurants is the genuine pride the staff feels over their job and that is very tangible here too.

I got to sample one of the latest additions on the menu. the tasting plate which is recommended for pre-show enjoyment. As I went through it my plans for the future became very clear: I could get used to being pampered like this - I should be a princess too! Having suitors die in a bid to win my affection sure beats internet dating...

Marinated zander was beautifully cooked and had a great, firm texture. The cucumber relish and it's herby mayonnaise complimented it superbly. Sea buckthorncream and pickled chantarelles were stupendously superb combination, along with Jerusalem artichoke puré that accompanied herb-marinated beef. The cheeses (from Finnish small producers) came with wonderfully fragrant tomato marmalade.

The house Champagne that saw me through my meal, Montaudon Brut Réserve Prèmiere was the favourite fizz of Josephine Baker. One of Mrs Baker's adopted children which represented 12 different nationalities was a Finn named Jari who still today runs a restaurant in New York called Chez Josephine!

Vision clouded by tears and palms still hurting from all the vigorous clapping I made my way (make that flowing in the air) home. And you know what? Calaf was right singing those words: Nessun dorma - today no-one shall sleep. The memory of that night will stay with me for a very long time indeed.

Following day I found myself uttering the lyrics with a new found appreciation - and without a hint of injeera. "Tramontate stelle! All'alba vincero!" Let the stars come - tomorrow I'll be the winner!

A heart-felt thank you to the staff at National Opera for their cooperation and wonderful feast!

*Food and drink was provided by Kanresta- restaurants*




No comments :

Post a comment