When this recording of Einojuhani Rautavaara's 1962 opera Kaivos (The Mine) was released commercially for the first time in 2011, the composer wrote that it is "perhaps the best opera I have ever written." One hesitates to argue with a composer's judgement, but as a purely audio experience the opera doesn't make quite as strong an impression in its musical content and dramatic punch as Rautavaara's more characteristically lyrical later works like Thomas (1982-1985) and Aleksis Kivi (1995-1960). Rautavaara wrote The Mine, his first opera, during his early serial period, so it is a craggier and less immediately approachable work. His commitment to serialism was not absolute and it was influenced by Berg, so the music is tempered by the incorporation of popular and folk elements and broadly Romantic gestures that become more emotionally expressive as the action progresses. The opera packs a densely complex (and often confusing) narrative into three short acts lasting just an hour and a quarter. Rautavaara wrote the libretto based on a very recent uprising of mine workers in Hungary. Because of the Soviet Union's heavy influence in Finland at the time, the opera was never staged but it was broadcast on Finnish television in 1963 with its more incendiary political themes toned down. It's a recording of that broadcast that's released here. Bass-baritone Jorma Hynninen, who has gone on to star in many other Rautavaara operas, is superb in the central role of the Commissar. The other soloists are not at his level, but they are never less than very fine and the performers all seem to be deeply invested in the opera. Hannu Lintu draws excellent playing and singing from the Tampere Philharmonic Orchestra and the Kaivos Chorus. Ondine's sound is clean, warmly atmospheric, and well balanced. The Mine should be of interest to anyone who loves Rautavaara, and to fans of new opera.
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AllMusic Review by Stephen Eddins