Tuesday 9 September 2014

Aikainen: Time for fun and games at the Arcola

Miika Hyytiäinen - photo credit Ulf Buschleb
Miika Hyytiäinen
 photo credit Ulf Buschleb
Miika Hyytiäinen Aikainen; Grimeborn Festival at the Arcola Theatre
Reviewed by Hilary Glover on Sep 2 2014
Star rating: 4.0

Delightful and playful experimental opera from young Finnish composer

'Aikainen' (Finnish for early/ about time) was a short experimental opera composed by Finnish Miika Hyytiäinen (1982-) and directed by Jaakko Nousiainen. Performed on Tuesday 2nd September as part of the Grimeborn alternative opera festival held at the Arcola Theatre in the heart of the East End of London.

Composer Hyytiäinen has just finished a composition diploma in Experimental Music Theatre at the University of Arts, Berlin and is starting a PhD at Sibelius Academy, Helsinki this year. Originally he studied mathematics – which has remained with him as a love of prime numbers, which are scattered throughout 'Aikainen'. He has a quirky love of technology too, his 2012 opera “Omnivore” was written for mobile phone.

Premiered in Berlin earlier this year 'Aikainen' continues this innovation. It included 3D-printed ocarinas, whose shape was based on the shape swept by the movement of a pendulum, a 3D graphical score, which dominated the stage in the shape of a Möbius strip, and a 3D video of three ladies singing (described as the three Wagnerian “norms” of virgin, mother and witch). Alongside this were other videos by Alicja Sowiar featuring fashion shows, digital clocks counting up (or down) numbers, old Amstrad-style computer games, and cartoons, plus drawings made by an artist in Berlin to represent time which were transformed into theatre by the performers and members of the audience.

There is a short video of the composer describing the opera here:
and lots of other videos here

The five acts of 'Aikainen' were 'The endings', 'Frauline Zeit', 'Generations', 'Memories' and 'Timespace', separated by two interludes 'Berlin, 04:15h' and 'Helsinki, 16:15'.

Annika Fuhrmann and Frauke Aulbert in Aikainen - photo credit Ulf Buschleb
Annika Fuhrmann and Frauke Aulbert
 photo credit Ulf Buschleb
'The endings' were a set of games between the two singers Annika Fuhrmann and Frauke Aulbert that started with a quote from Einstein “The only reason for time is so that everything doesn't happen at once” and ending in Annika's joyful death. Other games followed involving the orchestra as well including clapping and musical chairs - with the losers having to perform a duet, and more pretend dying.

'Frauline Zeit' was an exploration of time and what constitutes 'now'. Hyytiäinen filmed himself writing a short piece of music several weeks ago – and once the video had shown him completing the score it was then performed by Annika who was seeing it for the first time. Hyytiäinen on the video then explained that he was going to compose a piece in real time, and he (in person) wrote a few notes displayed via an overhead projector. Later he would use the same medium to complete a number puzzle which (I assume) provided musical cues.

The Möbius strip provided the singers with their music for Act III 'Generations' against a backdrop of diving cells. 'Generations' continued with Anu Komsi, Kaisa Näreranta and Tiina Sinkkonen as the three 'norms', each singing in isolation but the superpositioned in the film so that there is an illusion of interaction. The musicians (the Varjo Ensemble: Gailė Griciūtė on piano, Turkka Inkilä, flute and 3D-printed ocarina, Taavi Oramo, Clarinet and 3D-printed ocarina, Kari Olama, violin and Johanna Tarkkanen on Cello) again got their cues from the film.

Cast and performers from Aikainen - photo credit Ulf Buschleb
Cast and performers from Aikainen
 photo credit Ulf Buschleb 
Act V was a return (if we ever left) to games and to 'memories' of earlier acts. The performers all moved around the stage, each performing their own musical cells. The violinist had a stopwatch to time when the next segment began, and cards of artwork handed out by the composer, which were also displayed on the screens in turn, were used to inform the pattern of movements around the hall.

The final act (the memory of Act IV – 'Timespace') was based on a series of numbered instructions which the performers had to interpret as they could.

The whole opera was delightful and playful. I would have liked to have known more about the different rules that the performers were following as it would have made a little more sense – but perhaps the surrealist quality brought by lack of understanding was part of the point. Due to the graphical nature of the scores there was little in the way of melody or traditional music. One obvious counter to this was a trio sung by three of the (male) musicians near the start. Otherwise the singers were given duration, technique, higher or lower pitch, and fragmentary words and sounds.

This was the seventh year of Grimeborn. For other reviews see the Grimeborn coverage on this blog.
From what I have seen Grimeborn is more than an alternative Glyndebourne - it gives talented new performers and artists a forum for re-interpreting old masters and is also not afraid to support up and coming composers who just want to try something new.
Reviewed by Hilary Glover

Elsewhere on this blog:

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