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Finnish Miner Uprising Focus of New Opera

Finnish and American musicians and producers are collaborating to write an opera called Rockland, which tells the story of Finnish miners in early 19th-century America. The story is based on real events in Rockland, Michigan, when a group of Finns rose up in protest against dismal working conditions.

Sarlinin suonen ylempi kaivos Laanilassa 1902. Image: GTK / Emil Sarlin

The work has been commissioned by the Pine Mountain Music Festival in the US and the Jokilaaksojen Music Foundation in Nivala, Finland. Finnish composer Jukka Linkola is writing the music, while Jussi Tapola is both the director and the author of the opera's libretto.

The historical uprising of the Finnish miners ended with the shooting deaths of two of the Finns.

"The strike changed the attitudes towards Finnish miners; they were blacklisted," explains Tapola. "It wasn't until seven years later that the big wave of strikes hit America, when people wanted to improve working conditions and safety."

Finns' Legacy Still Apparent

America held promise for many European immigrants in the 18th and 19th centuries, and Finns were no exception. Many of them settled in northern mid-western states, where their descendants still live. This is true of Rockland today.

"Even today you can see street names in two languages, Finnish and English. The Finnish language has even affected the local dialect. Articles and prepositions are frequently dropped, because the Finns didn't know how to use them," laughs Tapola.

The opera Rockland will make its debut in 2010 in Nivala as well as in Michigan.

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