Perttu Kivilaakso and Eicca Toppinen claim to have composed the most beautiful opera since Puccini’s Turandot. Mattias Mattila of Yle News spoke to the artists behind Indigo days before the January 22nd premiere.
Apocalyptica members Perttu Kivilaakso and Eicca Toppinen, known for their metallic cello riffs, are gentlemen but they are decidedly not shy. So when Lilli Paasikivi, artistic director of the Finnish National Opera, commissioned an opera from the two heavy metal men, they went on to compose exactly what they pleased.
– We felt there were no constraints. We don’t need the approval of our classical composer colleagues, Eicca Toppinen says.
The result was Indigo, a hybrid opera whose musical language is familiar to Apocalyptica fans as well as to friends of romantic Italian opera. Combining such disparate musical idioms into a work that was true to the opera form was the composers’ greatest challenge and main task.
Toppinen says the most unoriginal solution would have been to bring in a drum kit, an electric guitar or other rhythmic instruments, so they made a conscious decision to exclude them. Kivilaakso concurs.
– We particularly tried to avoid rock music clichés, and on the other hand we wanted to graft in solutions familiar from classical music, so as to bring the opera form together with the apocalyptic idiom by means of tradition.
The two cellists claim no-one else would be bold enough to compose such beautiful arias and write such a romantic story in the 2010s.
– There is grand drama, romance, tragedy. It is a story of doomed love and ends, of course, in ruin, Kivilaakso assures.
Kivilaakso didn’t recognize his own music
Kivilaakso and Toppinen are used to writing music for themselves. Whether it is songs written for Apocalyptica or arrangements of other composers’ pieces, the music is always tailored specifically for them.
With Indigo, it was completely different. It was clear from the outset that Apocalyptica would not be performing in this opera. About a year ago, the duo handed over their composition to Jaakko Kuusisto, who edited, arranged and orchestrated the music to suit the massive operatic machinery.
I thought I was listening to Benjamin Britten.
At the time of this interview, the busy composers do not even know what the final result will sound like. Kivilaakso visited a rehearsal to get a feel of Indigo before the premiere.
– I was surprised how completely I could forget myself. I thought I was listening to Benjamin Britten until I realized, oh man, I wrote this.
Kivilaakso is an opera man through and through. Verdi’s works, for instance, are known to have such an effect on him that he is sometimes in tears before the music has even started.
Making the riffs into orchestral music
Apocalyptica has a unique style of performing and playing. Whipping a cello standing up is as unergonomic a posture as any, and aggressive heavy metal riffs are better suited for electric guitars and basses than acoustic strings.
Jaakko Kuusisto was presented with a work based, in part, on apocalyptic riffs. His job was to work it into material suited for orchestra musicians.
– My rendering of the riffs may be somewhat different from what the original demo version might lead you to expect, but the fundamental idea remains unchanged, Kuusisto says.
– They had a very clear idea and a vision, but opera as an art form requires everything to be very precisely set out on paper. That makes it possible for this big machine to run and for everyone to give it their best, he continues.
Kivilaakso points out it would have been foolish not to put Kuusisto’s professionalism to use.
– Of course we wanted to have the benefit of Jaakko’s vision. We also wanted to give him a free rein, Kivilaakso says.
Singers Markus Nykänen, Marjukka Tepponen, Mari Palo, Christian Juslin, Jaakko Kortekangas, Päivi Nisula, Koit Soasepp and Petri Bäckström are all classically trained. Vocal parts are central to the work. Its high points are arias which have influences from 19th Century opera.
The director works on a vision of his own
The story of the opera reaches into many dimensions. A multinational pharmaceutical company has developed a drug to enhance human productivity, but it has devastating side effects. The device used in its development has probed deep into the human mind, but the deepest level, to which the name Indigo refers, has never been reached. It is Indigo that is needed to make the drug safe.
The story was developed in the summer of 2014 in an old vicarage by the composers together with production designer Sampo Pyhälä, librettist Sami Parkkinen and director Vilppu Kiljunen. For Kiljunen, it has been an opportunity to fulfill himself artistically.
– When I’m working on an existing opera that has been performed before, I feel as if I’m interpreting the work. Now I feel I’m realizing my own vision, my own work, Kiljunen says.
The opera belongs to the people
The unique production is likely to attract people who rarely come to the opera. Kivilaakso and Toppinen welcome and encourage them.
– It’s the same thing with classical concerts. People are quick to think that you need to be familiar with some mysterious code. That is not at all true. Just step right in and see what happens, Toppinen says.
– The opera belongs to the people. Everyone should feel comfortable coming here.
The world-famous composers are also drawing Apocalyptica fans from other countries to the Finnish National Opera.
– I know of many people travelling to see it from as far as South America, the United States and Japan, Kivilaakso says.
- Indigo, a work commissioned by the Finnish National Opera, premiered in Helsinki on January 22nd. Indigo will be broadcast live on Yle Teema and can be viewed online around the world through Yle Areena on Saturday, January 30th, at 7 p.m. Finnish time (5 p.m. UTC). The opera will be available on demand until the end of 2016.
Mattias Mattila, Yle News