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Two valium, two Mogadon. That’s usually enough,’ sings a character in Sebastian Fagerlund’s Höstsonaten, set to a Swedish libretto by Gunilla Hemming. Alternatively, you could give the pills a miss and just listen to two hours of existential angst, and good luck if you make it through the second CD.

The opera is based on Ingmar Bergman’s 1978 film Autumn Sonata, which will already deter some but enthuse others, and uses a tightened plotline focusing on the relationships of concert pianist Charlotte, returning home after a long absence to reconnect with her two daughters. Recorded live at Finnish National Opera during its premiere run last year, it is in some ways an impressive achievement: a serious work, well-performed and recorded. Fagerlund’s orchestration is dense, he writes efficiently for the voice and gives singers lines they can actually sing, and he provides his chorus with some interesting and complex layered effects. However, there is a real monotony to the pacing of each scene, few of which display any rhythmic variety. Perhaps this is to underpin the inexorability of the plot, mundane on the surface but seething underneath, but it soon lags. I don’t have one word of Swedish, but the libretto’s vowels seem incredibly stretched along each vocal line; maybe it would make more sense to a Swedish speaker? Anne Sofie von Otter makes the most of Charlotte, and Erika Sunnegårdh, Helena Juntunen and Tommy Hakala provide good support. John Storgårds’ conducting maximises Fagerlund’s musical effects, but without a strong dramatic pulse it remains interesting music rather than a theatrical experience. Maybe a filmed performance would have been a better option?

Francis Muzzu Read the full review on Agora Classica


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