AUTUMN SONATA [HÖSTSONATEN] | Hong Kong, Cultural Centre

Based on Ingmar Bergman’s Swedish-language, Oscar-nominated 1978 film, the Finnish National Opera commissioned a Swedish-language opera adaptation by Finnish composer Sebastian Fagerlund and Finnish librettist Gunilla Hemming, which premiered in 2017, and now receives its Asia premiere as part of biennial World Cultures Festival’s The Nordics.

Fagerlund’s score, for gigantic forces, is extraordinary: a menacing, grandiose overture promises us intense drama, and through both acts we hear a neverending variety of orchestral colours. Purists may find it borders on melodrama, but the shifts are far too subtle and intelligent for that: every moment feels significant and new. Led by Swedish conductor Patrik Ringborg, the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra have pulled off a remarkable feat: they sound so accomplished, you’d think it was them who premiered it.

At the opera’s core is grieving, half-psychotic Eva (Erika Sunnegårdh), who finally shows her true hatred for her mother, celebrity pianist Charlotte Andergast (Charlotte Hellekant), when she comes to visit Eva and Eva’s severely disabled sister Helena (Helena Juntunen). Juntunen’s vocal is out of this world: a stunning mix of soaring modern soprano and theatrical vocalising fully conveys the extent of her disability.

Fagerlund’s text setting is extremely slow; something that French director (and set designer) Stéphane Braunschweig deals with brilliantly. However, the sinister dissonance of the music, upsetting libretto, and torturous speed makes for a difficult and rather bleak experience. A noticeable number of people had left during the interval, but those who remained gave the cast, creatives and orchestra a well-deserved ovation.

Booking online 18 – 20 October 2019.

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