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Purge (opera)

Sofi Oksanen’s international bestseller “Purge” in a gut-wrenching opera by the composer Jüri Reinvere.

Purge had its world premiere at the Finnish National Opera on 20th April 2012. The opera takes on the history of aftermath of WWII and modern human trafficing and has earned praise in the Finnish media as well as the international press. The production at the Finnish National Opera runs until 25th May 2012.

The authors of the opera have created a perfect match of literary work and modern opera, witnessed by the audience, who at the premiere remained in revered silence for an entire minute after the performance had ended. Purge centres on the the times of bloodbaths in the Soviet Union and traces the tales of two women in parallel. Their fate is the fate of the nation. In the story, the encounter of the older woman, Aliide, and young Zara, leads to the revealing of the two women’s harrowing pasts and also the history of Estonia moving back and forth from the 1930s to the present day. The theme of modern day slavery and human trafficking becomes the sub text to the opera. 

Jüri Reinvere’s score, at once suggestive, expressive and dramatic, achieves an effect where the stage seems to mirror an entire society, filling the stage and creating intimate moments. His musical language is modern, but the focus on gripping story-telling makes Purge a classical opera. Reinvere has also written the libretto. “I emphasise Estonians coming to terms with the past. I claim that the past can only become the past when we have faced it eye to eye,” says Reinvere.

Reinvere wanted to pay homage to classical opera and complete the most important arias. This opera is very challenging for the singers – both the soloists and the chorus. The part of the main character Aliide requires a range of two and a half octaves. Additionally Reinvere uses documentary soundscapes, e.g. original sounds of American Studebaker-cars, which the Soviets used for the deportation of people to Siberia.

“It was important that Purge was made an opera from beginning to end.” says the composer. “It cannot be an illustration of the book or the play. It has to work as the most classical operas work together, like Dumas and Verdi, for instance” and adds: “opera has a strange skill. It is simultaneously the truth, and more than the truth. By telling the truth of the past, we can understand finally the present, both in ourselves and in the music, which we are surrounded by”.