Alma! a kinetic opera
photo: Ville Hautakangas
"You should be writing music instead of organizing Gustav's scherzos and allegros."
[Alma! second act V You remind me of a cupcake]
Alma! (2019-2020) is a kinetic opera for singers, dancers and instrumental ensemble by composer Minna Leinonen, choreographer-director Petri Kekoni and librettist Hanna Weselius. It tells a story of three women, all characterised by strong emotions - the composer Alma Mahler as the lawyer and the visual artist Aino in the present day.
Music weaves together the multi-layered work of art that examines the woman's position in the past and present into a naturally flowing whole, which has a strong grip on the listener. Different time layers wander around seamlessly side-by-side. The instrumental ensemble consisting of flute, viola, percussion and piano stands for a rich expression that moves from breathlessly cool to heartbreakingly beautiful.
I came up with the idea of the work when conductor Jutta Seppinen asked me to write a chamber opera to her new CHANGEnsemble. I was looking for a text for some time, until I read the novel Alma! written by Hanna Weselius. Hanna's text felt immediately musical, resonant, and I liked the multilayered way she expressed humanity. I wanted to bring women with strong feelings into opera tradition, women who would also express other emotions than being loved by men. For example, the Lawyer, one of the sopranos in the opera, bellows out to patriarchal constructions and uses aggression as a power of change. Essentially Alma! tells about deciding on one's own independence and striving for solidarity.
"We belong together during moments which are not measured in lifetimes, years, or even weeks, days, or hours. We belong together during moments that are measured in seconds."
[Alma! second act VI When a person dies, their mouth forms an "e"]
In music I am fascinated by anachronism, time layers, when the past is brought to present or vice versa, and documentariness. Through them one can sense being part of some wider continuum. For a moment you can see the existence more clearly, but the moment feels like seconds. One of the main characters of the opera, composer Alma Mahler, who was a wife of the famous composer Gustav Mahler, is dropped off an iconic pedestal into a human being and is given a voice in Alma! as a person whose work as a composer was finished too soon.
choreography and direction: Petri Kekoni
composition: Minna Leinonen
libretto: Minna Weselius
conductor: Jutta Seppinen
sound design: Jussi Suonikko
costume design: Ella Kauppinen
lighting design: Jonne Nieminen ja Sari Mayer
premiere 17.2.2021 streamed via keikalla.fi
production: Dance Theatre MD, Petri Kekoni Company, CHANGEnsemble and Tampere Biennale
Minna Leinonen has composed the opera Alma! in such an exquisite and diverse way that the premiere can be seen as her breakthrough as a first-rate opera composer.
Tempo changes in music are vivid, the dramatic eruptions earthmoving and the slow sections dreamlike.
- Harri Hautala, Aamulehti 18.2.2021
Minna Leinonen succeeds in the most essential challenge of opera composing: to put her music into perspective but still keeping her own voice.
Minna Leinonen´s colourful and expressive score moves with a wide range, from nervous swerving to lyrical glow.
- Harri Kuusisaari, Rondo 19.2.2021
Leinonen has composed piercingly glowing, sometimes painfully beautiful, sometimes cruel ironic music.
Juxtaposing and alternating live views of two women is functional, creating fast turns of events, fantasy-like dramaturgy.
The arc of drama Leinonen has built with strong touch.
- Hannu-Ilari Lampila, Helsingin sanomat 18.2.2021
Composer Minna Leinonen holds the chamber opera format together skilfully. Leinonen handles the text content competently.
- Tove Djupsjöbacka, HBL 18.2.2021
Alma! is an excellent work of art. For Minna Leinonen Alma! is a cracking rise into frontline of opera composers. The music of Minna Leinonen is diverse and surprisingly light.
- Katariina Fleming, Tamperelainen 27.2.2021