16 September 2006

Don Giovanni Suomeksi

Last night I went to see Don Giovanni at the city theater, which is a modernist box perched out over the harbor adjacent to the main market square in Oulu (the one behind the municipal library in this photo, which by the way I didn't take).

It was a very impressive performance. The music is great, of course, and both the orchestra and the voices seemed to me first-rate. Afterwards I did some research on the baritone cast in the title role, Juha Kotilainen. His voice has so much range he has actually sung counter-tenor in some productions. The action was set on a turntable that generated a seemingly endless parade of young maidens who had been, or were about to be, deflowered by the Don. As for the maidens, they came in all sizes and shapes, except that each had been fitted with a pair of humongous prosthetic boobs. The effect was a little like Mozart Meets Benny Hill.

The theater was extremely comfortable, with plenty of leg room and good sight lines. I noticed that people took their seats without the assistance of ushers, which reminded me of something I had read about Finland—that it’s not a nanny state, and it doesn’t have a “mind the gap” culture. Given the quality of the production, I thought the audience was a little restrained, but then rhythmic applause can only be speeded up, it can't swell. Maybe they just didn’t like it as much as I did.

Anyway, the great thing about opera is that if you’re having trouble with the Italian you can always look up at the sur-titles for the Finnish translation. Luckily, with Don Giovanni it’s not hard to follow the plot.


Blogger fulbrighterinfinland said...

How pathetic is it for a blogger to comment on his own post? Oh, well, somebody has to do it.

I continue to mull over the audience reaction to Don Giovanni, and I want to make it clear that the vibes I got were based on more than just the volume of applause. No one rose from their seats, and no one shouted out in praise of this very fine performance. In the States, of course, we’ll give a standing ovation to an orchestra just for not going out on strike. And anyone who has been to a high-school graduation in recent years knows that our tributes to exemplary performance—or even, truth to tell, just scraping by—are typically accompanied by spontaneous hoots, catcalls, amens, and shrieks of joy. My fellow opera aficionados at the Oulu City Theater were, by contrast, almost completely mute. There was one very tentative cry of approbation from the back rows, but even that was stifled at the end. Maybe, given the absence from the Finnish language of grammatical gender, the party in question couldn’t decide between “bravo” and “brava,” and so just swallowed the thing.

On Saturday night, thanks to the generosity of fellow Fulbrighters, I had an opportunity to ask some Finns about my night at the opera. They agreed among themselves that in Finland a truly exceptional artistic or athletic performance was likely to be assessed as “not too bad.” If it were not so oxymoronic, one might be tempted to say that understatement rules.

As we were a gathering of teachers, the conversation naturally turned to related differences between Finnish and American academic performance and pedagogy. I was told that Finnish ninth-graders recently placed first on a standardized test administered worldwide—something called the PISA international test. Here’s a link: http://www.pisa.oecd.org/pages/0,2987,en_32252351_32235731_1_1_1_1_1,00.html.
According to my dinner companions, no one really knows why Finnish students do so well on these kinds of tests, and it was acknowledged that the results call into question the meaning of “not too bad” in Finland. It was pointed out that for American students, who finished something like 26th overall, there has been no discernible effect on measures of self-esteem.

10:04 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

if you want more audible crowd participation with your theatre, try out the näässpeksi or teekkarispeksi sometime when they happen to arrive. it's amateur theatre comprised of the tech students from the universities of tampere (nääs-) and helsinki (teekkari-) that tour through the country's other universities with a new show each year... and uhm... those shows are nice and bit different with all the good mood and interactivity. should be 2-3 shows per speksi when they stop here.

11:42 PM  

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