30 October 2016

Vikingarna

A passionate Swedish national opera. Hillevi Martinpelto will join us for Hallström’s “Vikingarna” (The Vikings), the first in the season’s concert series of important but rarely performed Swedish operas.

Overture to Vikingarna, recorded during the Gothenburg Cultural Festival 2016

This season’s series of concertante Swedish operas opens with an exclusive performance of Ivar Hallström’s national romantic opera Vikingarna (The Vikings), from 1877. Apart from a duet on Swedish Television, this music has not been heard in full since 1882.

Hillevi Martinpelto
Emelie Kroon

In his libretto, Frans Hedberg lets two worlds confront each other: the cool Nordic world with its rough Vikings, against the more spirited and elegant world of Provence. Hallström skilfully brings these two worlds to life through his music and musical expression.

Hillevi Martinpelto will make a guest appearance as Isaura. Apart from enjoying an extensive international career, Martinpelto is also an experienced Hallström singer. The conductor of this concertant performance is B Tommy Andersson, the foremost expert of our time in Swedish romantic operas.

Culture clash between Vikings and the Provençals

Article by Göran Gademan, The Göteborg Opera’s dramaturgist

In 1874, the composer Ivar Hallström achieved sensational success with Den bergtagna (The Bride of the Mountain King), with libretto by Frans Hedberg. The work was hailed as the opera the nation had been waiting for during the entire 1800s. It was undoubtedly the major national opera of the 1800s through which Hallström showed that he was the century’s superior Swedish opera composer. It is always difficult to replicate success, although Hallström's and Hedberg’s follow-up opera Vikingarna met with success in 1877 and remained a part of the repertoire. Hedberg's original story gave Hallström new opportunities to play two worlds against each other, in this case the contrast of the chilly Nordic countries with the fiery Provençal setting. 

The story takes place in Provence, where the Viking Rolf arrives with his fiancée Astrid and friend Björn. Rolf develops a fascination with Isaura, the daughter of a Count. The theme is the distinction between the north and the south, personified in these two women. Astrid is depicted as cool and blond, sweet and faithful, while Isaura has a southern passion, impulsive in her nature. But this distinction is also related to the environment in general: the Provençal court with its refined culture is musically opposed to the simple and straight-forward, but unsophisticated Vikings. Rolf begins to doubt where his true home is. He loves both Astrid and Isaura, which proves to be the foundation of a tragic conflict which ends in sudden, fateful death. 

Hallström had worked on his weakness, namely the orchestration, through close cooperation with the conductor Conrad Nordqvist. In his music, he strived further down his determined path of dramatic-musical concentration. While Den bergtagna is still largely a number opera with clearly defined arias, duets and chorus pieces, Vikingarna shows a desire to achieve a smoother introduction of the aria-like parts in a continuous flow. Lying behind this development is the somewhat larger influence of Wagner than in Den bergtagna, where it was more of a passing fancy. However, Hallström was far from some Wagner epigone, with his tonal language being much more personal and his root chords more French than German. 

The roles were written for the biggest stars of the Swedish stage at the time, and so the Royal Swedish Opera saw Fredrika Stenhammar (Isaura), Oscar Arnoldson (Rolf), Carl Fredrik “Lunkan” Lundqvist (Björn) and Wilhelmina Söhrling (Astrid) perform the work. Frans Hedberg directed his own libretto and new décor - not necessarily so common at the time - was designed by Christian Jansson. Reviewers suggested that Hallström was even more driven in his music, so it could be stated that this represented him standing at the absolute pinnacle of his career. In total, 26 performances of the opera were put on with various casts, a relatively large number in those times for a small city like Stockholm. Vikingarna returned every season until 1882. But that was the last time it was heard, with the exception of a duet at a concert broadcast by SVT during the early 1990s.

The performance will be led by the conductor and composer B Tommy Andersson, an expert in Swedish national romantic music. Among other works, he led the opera postuma performance of Hallström's Liten Karin (Little Karin) in Kalmar in 1997. And the soprano Hillevi Martinpelto played the title role of Ingeborg in Hallström's Den bergtagna at the NorrlandsOperan as one of her first roles, before embarking on a major international career. The production was a huge success and was recorded for release on both TV and CD. Martinpelto also has an extensive background in Swedish opera, with numerous complete CD recordings behind her. She has now begun to study the part of Isaura and believes that it is broader than Ingeborg’s, closer to the part of the Bride in Den bergtagna. A natural development for a singer, and natural also considering who it was written for. Fredrika Stenhammar, aunt of Wilhelm Stenhammar, was our first Wagnerian soprano and the first Swedish Elsa, Senta and Elisabeth in their Swedish premières at the time. 

The main male role Rolf is, in our production, performed by the house's leading tenor Tomas Lind, who is also no stranger to singing Hallström's work: early in his career he took on the role of Brynolf in Hertig Magnus och sjöjungfrun (Duke Magnus and the Mermaid) at Vadstena-Academy. The two now meet again – their most recent pairing on our stage was in Un ballo in maschera – and can now as more rounded and mature artists give life to Hallström's music. In other key roles are Mats Persson as Björn and Ann-Kristin Jones as Astrid. As a whole army of Vikings arrives in Provence, the opera is in many places written for a double chorus – a male chorus of Vikings and a mixed chorus for the Provençals. Accordingly, a number of extra male chorus artists have been brought in. It is deeply exciting to see what it will sound like – we won't actually find out until we are standing there ready with our soloists, full chorus and orchestra.

#GOvikingarna

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