Finland’s National Opera House, where both our performances take place, occupies a beautiful waterside site on the Bay of Töölön near the centre of Helsinki. Built in 1993, it is a glistening structure of white ceramics and Finnish granite. The Opera House is just one of a number of recent buildings that have established Helsinki as a centre of architectural excellence and a recent World Design Capital: we will also visit Alver Aalto’s iconic Finlandia Hall.
The pieces we will see were originally conceived for a theatre whose architecture and aesthetics were entirely different from those of Helsinki. Massenet’s opera Thaïs and Delibes’ ballet Sylvia were both premiered in the early years of Paris’s Palais Garnier, and much of the luxuriousness – some would say decadence – of that theatre infiltrates the sumptuous sound-worlds of the scores they produced.
The rarely produced Thaïs is known mainly for the exquisite ‘Meditation’ that serves as an entr’acte: this popular violin solo justly represents Massenet’s melodic genius, but only hints at the emotional punch that his adaptation of Anatole France’s story of erotic obsession carries. Nicola Raab’s production features sets and costumes by Johan Engels spectacular enough to have enticed Plácido Domingo to borrow them for Los Angeles.
Delibes shares Massenet’s fate of being featured on Classic FM exclusively by a single smash hit, but there is much more to him than the Lakmé ‘Flower Duet’: no less a ballet composer than Tchaikovsky wrote of Sylvia, ‘what charm, what wealth of melody! It brought me to shame, for had I known of this music, I would have never written Swan Lake.’ The choreographer John Neumeier, praised by Leonard Bernstein as ‘a deep thinker and a mysterious poet’, has devised a production that draws out both the power and the vulnerability of Delibes’ eponymous huntress.
Fly at c. 10.20am (Finnair) from London Heathrow to Helsinki. A guided tour of Aalto’s Finlandia Hall (1961–75), a concert and event space celebrating nature and light. There is time to settle into the hotel before dinner.
Morning lecture on this evening’s performance, followed by a walk through the Neo-Classical heart of the city: Senate Square, the domed cathedral and the colourful Market Square by the old harbour. Free afternoon; recommended is the Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art. Dinner before the performance at the Finnish National Opera: Thaïs (Jules Massenet), Patrick Fournillier (conductor), Nicola Raab (director), Marianne Fiset (Thaïs), Warwick Fyfe (Athanaël), Mika Pohjonen (Nicias), Iida Antola (Crobyle), Elli Vallinoja (Myrtale), Jyrki Korhonen (Palémon), Jeni Packalen (Albine).
The day is free until an early afternoon lecture. Drive to the Finnish National Opera for a private guided tour followed by dinner and an evening ballet: Sylvia (music by Léo Delibes), John Neumeier (choreographer), Garrett Keast (conductor).
In the morning visit the Ateneum, Finland’s foremost art museum, which houses a collection of brilliant National Romantic pictures. Continue by coach to the airport and fly to London Heathrow, arriving at c. 3.15pm.
Price, per person
Two sharing: £1,810 or £1,680 without flights. Single occupancy: £1,990 or £1,860 without flights.
Flights (economy class) with Finnair (aircraft: Airbus A350-900); travel by private coach throughout; accommodation as described below; breakfasts, 3 dinners with wine; all admissions; all tips; all taxes; the services of the tour leaders.
Music & ballet
First-category tickets to 2 performances are included, costing c. £230 in total. At the time of going to print not all tickets were confirmed.
Hotel Haven, Helsinki: smart boutique hotel close to the harbour. Single rooms are doubles for sole use.
Participants need to be fit enough to manage the city walk and to cope easily with stair-climbing. Average distance by coach per day: 13 miles.
Between 10 and 22 participants.
Before booking, please refer to the FCO website to ensure you are happy with the travel advice for the destination(s) you are visiting: www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.