POLITICS OF EQUALITY IN FINNISH OPERA

Academy of Finland research project (Academy of Finland Research Fellow, 5 years) 

Liisamaija Hautsalo

Suomenkielinen abstrakti 

Suomessa sävelletään oopperaa kansainvälisesti ajatellen paljon. Tässä tutkimuksessa tarkastellaan suomalaista oopperaa suomalaisen yhteiskunnan perusarvon, tasa-arvon, näkökulmasta. Musiikkitieteen lisäksi poliittista historiaa, sosiologiaa, antropologiaa ja kasvatustiedettä hyödyntävä tutkimus lähtee oletuksesta, että suomalaisen oopperan elinvoimaisuuden taustalla on kaksi poliittis-historiallista tekijää: 1800-luvun jälkipuoliskolla syntynyt fennomaaninen sivistyskäsitys ja 1960-luvulla suomalaisessa hyvinvointivaltiossa 1960-luvulta alkaen harjoitettu kulttuuripolitiikka. Tutkimus olettaa, että oopperan tasa-arvoistuminen on erityisesti suomalainen ilmiö ja että pyrkimys tasa-arvoon näkyy esimerkiksi oopperan teemoissa ja aiheissa, henkilöhahmoissa, esityspaikoissa, säveltämisessä, yleisön rakenteessa, laulutyylissä sekä rahoituksessa. Tutkimus osoittaa, että suomalaisen oopperan elinvoimaisuus Suomessa perustuu sen tasa-arvoa tuottaviin käytäntöihin.

 

Abstract (popular)

On as international scale, Finnish opera is extremely prolific. This research project explores Finnish opera in the context of the core value of Finnish society, equality. Drawing on political history, sociology, anthropology, art research and opera studies, this study suggests that the vigour of Finnish opera is based on two factors: the Finnish version of European nationalism since 1870s, and the cultural politics of the Finnish welfare society. The central assumption of this study is that the principle of equality associates with opera is unique to Finland and impacts for instance in dramatis personae, topics, sites and geographic location(s), audiences, composer, singing style, and funding. This study suggests that in Finland practices of equality and through expanding the very concept of ‘opera’ the art form is socially and culturally legitimized as contrast to the European classic-romantic tradition. In Finland, opera is more than simply a form of high culture for the elite.

Abstract (scientific)

This research project explores Finnish opera in the context of the core value of Finnish society, equality. Currently, opera has largely been understood as an elitist and marginal art form, and during the 20th century it has, indeed, been declared dead several times. This view of opera is not, however, an accurate picture of opera in Finland where opera is indeed neither dead nor a fading cultural phenomenon. On the contrary, a notable number of contemporary first performances of Finnish opera has been commissioned, composed, and premiered at the turn of the millennium and after, peaking in 2011 with 23 first performances – thus continuing the Finnish opera boom that started in the 1970s. Importantly, almost all new operas deal with current, critical socio-political issues.

This interdisciplinary study, located in the field of new opera studies, investigates the entirety of Finnish operatic practice from the year 1852, when the first opera in Finland was composed, until today, however, placing emphasis on the last four decades. The project draws not only from the field of musicology, but also from history studies, social studies, anthropology, philosophy, cultural studies and research on the arts as well as educational studies. The main methodological approach of the study is conceptual and will be explored through three key concepts: vernacularization (Appadurai 1996) which refers to process of decolonizing, indigenised and vernacularized cultural phenomena; Zeitoper referring originally to operatic style in 1920–30s Germany dealing with contemporary socio-political issues; and equality which is an overall interpretative lens through which Finnish operatic practice will be investigated. The overall objective is to understand and demonstrate how Finnish operatic practice produces equality in terms of Rancière’s (2004) aesthetic regime. This study argues that equality is produced at least in eight areas or levels of Finnish opera: 1) Dramatis personae – giving voice to people in the margins; 2) Activism and political topics and subject matters; 3) Unusual sites and geographically spread locations; 4) Child audiences, child artists, disabled child artists; 5) Community art form – blurring the boundaries of professionals and amateurs; 6) Multiple manifestations of the composer; 7) Non-operatic singing and hybrid styles; and 8) Value-basis: Local and national policy and funding. It is also argued that practices of equality and through expanding the very concept of ‘opera’ the art form is socially and culturally legitimized as contrast to the European classic-romantic tradition.

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