One evening I arrive unexpectedly in Aliide’s cottage in my well-travelled Opel.
She knew me when I was a child, but I haven’t met her since I was a teenager. The first thing I notice, is the fear in her eyes. Her hands move restlessly. She keeps observing me, not exactly knowing what I think of her now, immediately after the collapse of Soviet Union. Back then she had used her benefits of belonging to the Communist party without hesitation.
When she discovers that I am not judging her, she attacks me, openly and aggressively. She doesn’t approve my car, my cigarettes, my home address, the music I write is wrong, the literature I read is wrong, the radio is wrong, Estonia is in peril, and earlier things were better, much better.
I don’t respond. It confuses her. She tries to attack me again, but then suddenly withdraws to her chamber and returns sluggish. A TV rattles in the corner, Mitterrand’s well-carved words about French-Baltic friendship.
And next – she treats me as if I were her best friend.
She’s got two cats. When the night falls, she goes and fetches them down from blossoming apple trees. She wraps the cats in towels, brings them in, and warms them next to the oven. From their swaddling clothes they follow me with their sleepy, scanning eyes. Then she goes to feed the wild cats on the fields behind the house. I see from the window, how in the hay around her crooked back dance tens of black questioning marks.
Then it is completely dark.
A story of modern human trafficking and the aftermath of WWII
libretto by the composer
premiere in Finnish National Opera, 20. April 2012
Duration: act I 60′, act II 70′. Orchestra (3333…), choir, soloists.
Published by FennicaGehrman, Finland
“Born a classic!” Kotimaa (Finland)
“By putting us inside a mind that shuts off in self-defense at the onset of brutality, Reinvere tells us more than any amount of thrusting orchestral violence ever could.” Financial Times (UK)
“A Purge worthy of homage. [...] Like straight out of Kalevala…” Svenska Dagbladet (Sweden)
“An opera based on a novel nominated with Prix Femina and Fnac, “Purge” wakes up the frightening and shameful history, where two women have to face the tragedy of destiny.” La Scene (France)
“It hits right to the core of opera culture. [...] The final scene reaches the Wagnerian scales… The end of the “Purge” is one of the most beautiful ones ever…” Kirkko ja kaupunki (Finland)
“The bold combination of history, politics and suspense” The Sunday Times (UK)
Film version produced by Solar Films
Rights of the novel sold to 43 territories, stage rights sold to 11 territories
“…/ [It] is a novel with a psychological dimension that tells with honesty a tragic chapter in European history.” Turisti per caso magazine (Italy)
Over 300000 copies sold in France, over 30 months on Bestseller list in Finland
Jüri Reinvere’s score, at once suggestive and dramatic, achieves an effect where the stage seems to mirror an entire society, filling the stage and creating intimate moments. His musical language is modern, but the focus on gripping story-telling makes Purge a classical opera. “I emphasize Estonians coming to terms with the past. I claim that the past can only become the past when we have faced it eye to eye,” says Reinvere.
Reinvere wanted to pay homage to classical opera and complete the most important arias. This opera is very challenging for the singers – both the soloists and the chorus. The part of the main character Aliide requires a range of two and a half octaves. Additionally Reinvere uses documentary soundscapes, e.g. original sounds of American Studebaker-cars, which the Soviets used for the deportation of people to Siberia.
“It was important that Purge was made an opera from beginning to end.” says the composer. “It cannot be an illustration of the book or the play. It has to work as the most classical operas work together, like Dumas and Verdi, for instance” and adds: “opera has a strange skill. It is simultaneously the truth, and more than the truth. By telling the truth of the past, we can understand finally the present, both in ourselves and in the music, which we are surrounded by”. (from the Finnish National Opera)
Orchestra has to be the protagonist of this opera, that invisible, incomprehendable power, which predominated in the Soviet Union, and whom we really were not capable of recognising. The power, which poured out from a labyrinth of hierarchy, coerced people to act in a certain way: insecurely, cowardly, sometimes heroically, very often with a good sense of humour – but was impossible to personalise.
The orchestra dwells in the bottom of this pit. I decide to use only certain colours in the orchestration. Colours, which pass the angles, which sound has to swerve on its way from the pit to the audience. I think of the darkness of the theatre. Darkness, which is a companion of that opera, a hidden orchestra, which with all its power pushes the singers to act in a certain way.
There’s a big amount of risk in this, but I decide to act upon this.
Where once was the most ungodly prison of NKVD and which was used mostly for torturing its own management, is nowadays a monastery. It lays at the end of metro line and a couple of stops with trolleybuses.
Monastery is dim, from the walls drop big plots of painting. Right outside the gates shops, tramways, people on their journeys, with bags and without, kissing couples, teetering grandmothers, who climb with their bundles over the piles of pipes.
The history is invisible. A singing of monks, under the frescoes, all with motionless faces, in a golden glow, the scent of mirth. The chant circles around g sharp, then someone takes a bell and rings it five times – and proclaims: “The truth is come”.
Later, in the opera, both G sharp and A flat play a significant role, especially when there’s presence of the invisible, both in love, and in the relation of government to the people. And what comes for Aliide, bells ring her five times five times.