Vapaa Sana (2006)

From Kalevala to Värttinä, Lord of the Rings maintains Finnish connection

To those in the know, it should come as no great surprise that there will be a significant Finnish component to the recently announced Lord of the Rings (LOTR) theatrical production. After all, the Kalevala, Finland’s national epic, was one of the major influences on J.R.R. Tolkien when he was concocting the world’s favourite flight of fantasy back in the 1930’s and 40’s.
There are really two stories here for the Finnish-Canadian reader; the surprise announcement that Toronto will play host to the world premiere of the most grandiose theatrical production ever staged, and the fact that the music for this blockbuster will be co-composed by acclaimed Finnish contemporary folk group Värttinä, whose Kalevala-inspired music has its own roots deep in Karelia.

Musical Supervisor Christopher Nightingale insists that the dual Kalevala connection is mere coincidence.

“We were scouring the world looking for just the right sound, and then one day we came across the album Ilmatar by Värttinä,” reminisced Nightingale at last week’s press conference in Toronto. “One listen to track six, a brilliant dark, piece, and we knew we had our sound.”

Värttinä, comprised of three dynamic female vocalists and six acoustic musicians, stole much of the spotlight at last Wednesday’s press conference. Dressed in elegant yet fanciful white dresses, the trio of Susan Aho, Mari Kaasinen and Johanna Virtanen, along with composer and saxophonist Janne Lappalainen, Värttinä was in hot demand through-out the afternoon. With all of the major media outlets represented at the Princess of Wales theatre, everyone wanted a sampling of Värttinä’s magic for their audiences. Interviews with producers and directors were cut-off midstream, as all-of-a-sudden, intense, beautiful melody would captivate the room. Their sparkling eyes and spontaneous smiles emanating warmth to match their magical voices, Värttinä provided a little teaser of just how spellbound their music can hold audiences. Switching effortlessly from English to Finnish and back again, the Värttinä foursome admitted this has been the project of a lifetime.

“Since being selected to collaborate on the production (with Indian composer A.R. Rahman) about one-and-a-half years ago, LOTR has pretty much consumed us,” admitted Janne Lappalainen, “although we still tour on the side, this project has been the focus.”

With the February 2006 premiere, quickly approaching it is now back to the studio in Finland and then back to Canada in the fall for the beginning of rehersals.

“We have approximately one-year to go and lots of work to do,” Lappalainen continued, “and we’ll be back in Toronto in October to start working with the local talent throughout the winter.”

Värttinä is collaborating with renowned Indian composer A.R. Rahman on the Lord of the Rings project. Because each composers’ music is rooted in the history and complexity of their respective and distinct cultures, co-composing a production of this scale presents a unique challenge.

“Of course we have very different cultures and customs,” Janne Lappalainen admitted, “but we have gotten along very well.”

Ironically, it seems that the traditional stereotypes of Finnish and Indian cultures have been reversed in this relationship.

“Yes, A.R. is more of a solo worker and likes to be alone. Much of the time we each work separately and then only later exchange ideas,” Lappalainen continued, “we have more of an organic way of doing things, working together and interacting.”
“Of course, there are times when we will have to co-collaborate on pieces and for those we’ll get together and workshop. Overall, we have a very high level of respect for one another.”

The interview session was preceded by a heretofore unheard of ”sold-out’ press conference at the 2,000 seat Princess of Wales theatre. There was a palpable buzz in the audience as the haunting music of Värttinä filled the theatre. After a short teaser video, Producer Kevin Wallace took the stage to formally introduce the show’s creative team to Toronto.
Interestingly, during his introduction of the music and composers, he referenced the musical premise of the upcoming production as trying to blend the ‘sounds’ of “luxurious, warm India,” with those of “cold Finland,” inadvertently validating an age-old stereotype. Fittingly, it was Mr. Wallace himself who was one of the interviewees who later had the pleasure of being cut off as the luxurious, warm notes of Värttinä danced around, drowning out any further misconceptions about Finland’s coldness. The Lord of the Rings will be the biggest theatrical production ever staged and will cost C$27 million to produce. Performances of the stage adaptation of Lord of the Rings begin on February 2nd, 2006 with the gala world premiere in Toronto on March 23rd, 2006.

Markus Räty

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