What is our personal duty to the state? How can a sense of history move a nation forward?
The 1991-1992 season brought two epic productions to the LA Opera stage: – Hector Berlioz’s The Trojans and Aulis Sallinen’s Kullervo – that ask these questions about personal duty and nationhood.
The Trojans is based on Virgil’s The Aeneid, following the capture of Troy in by the Ancient Greeks as well as the Trojans’ time in Carthage before the forming of Rome. A vast undertaking, The Trojans is a four-hour masterpiece, rarely staged at the time LA Opera put on the production. Director Francesca Zambello discussed its relevance to modern audiences:
“What interested me most of all was the conflict between duty and love: this friction provides the opera’s forward momentum just as it pulls apart the lives of the human beings in it. Just where does the balance lie? Given our century’s experiences, such questions invariably make us uncomfortable for we see how dark the world can become when the individual is overpowered by state politics.”
Similarly, Kullervo is inspired by Finnish national epic, W.H. Auden’s Kalevala. It centers on an orphan, sold into serdom, who takes revenge against his captors. First commissioned by the Finnish National Opera in 1986, Kullervo graced the LA Opera stage in 1992 as the company’s first world premiere, in celebration of the 75th anniversary of Finnish Independence. In a 1992 interview with the Los Angeles Times, composer Sallinen called Kullervo a “very contemporary story” of a man facing his own tortured identity. The opera allowed for a glimpse into the darker points of humanity, at which point the only way to go would be back into the light.
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