Aix-en-Provence Festival premieres Kaija Saariaho's opera, 'Innocence'

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By Philip Andrew Churm
Aix-en-Provence Festival premieres Kaija Saariaho's opera, 'Innocence'
Copyright  Arte-camera lucida / Festival d'Aix-en-Provence

The World premiere of "Innocence", the latest opera by Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho takes place at the Aix-en Provence Festival in southern France. It is a contemporary story about guilt and innocence, which addresses family secrets and bullying.

Jérôme Brunetiere, General Secretary Festival d'Aix-en-Provence, explained why the event is unique.

"The Aix-en-Provence Festival is an opera festival with a very varied programme," he said.

"We go from Monteverdi, the origin of opera, to contemporary creations, with a premiere of Kaija Saariaho's opera 'Innocence' which is a great success. And it's really a very eclectic festival."

Sofi Oksanen's nine-language libretto opera is conducted by Susanna Mälkki, director of the Helsinki Philharmonic and staged by Simon Stone. It is inspired by Leonardo Da Vinci's "The Last Supper".

Describing her latest piece, Kaija Saariaho said: "Somehow, this work is a bit like a thriller, because we understand little by little the relationship between the characters, between the languages and everything. We ask ourselves, who is innocent? Aren't we all guilty?"

'Important composer'

Vilma Jää, plays Markéta. Her voice, which takes root in Finnish folklore, evokes innocence.

Camilo Delgado Díaz, a Colombian tenor, plays the character of Jerónimo and praised Saariaho's work.

"The Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho is one of the most important living composers of contemporary opera and contemporary music," he said.

"She is a genius for orchestral music and for opera today. So, it is interesting how Kaija introduces a number of languages. An international school. It is a topic that has to be talked about today, the topic of bullying and the things that can happen from this."

After the successes of "l'Amour de loin", "Adriana Mater" and "Emilie" with the French-Lebanese writer Amin Maalouf, Kaija Saariaho once again surprised audiences with this, her fourth opera.

One audience member said: "It's a remarkable opera. It has a rock and roll feel. It's very Nordic.

"There is also a bit of Icelandic Bjork, for example. There are very Nordic sounds, violent and deep, and it's a music that touches the heart. It's very beautiful."

Innocence is a co-production with the Finnish Opera, the Netherlands Opera, the Covent Garden and the San Francisco Opera. The Lyrical Art festival of Aix-en-Provence continues with its programming until July 25.