The second day of the Baltic Sea Festival revolves around the value of water – in The Rhinegold according to Salonen, master conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen and the Finnish National Opera perform Wagner’s The Rhinegold, in which the river gives life to all who live close to it. But at the bottom of the river rests the enchanted Rhinegold that, in the wrong hands, starts a disastrous chain of events that brings about the end of the world.

Throughout the history of music, there are some composers who stand out more than others. Not because their work was superior to that of their peers, but because they were innovators and pioneers. And Wagner undoubtedly ranks among them. With Wagner, operatic art embarked on a new chapter. He is primarily known for the idea of the opera as an “an all-embracing art form” that would elevate and refine man. Consequently, innovations such as ensuring that the auditorium remained in darkness and that the doors were kept closed during the performance were obvious for Wagner. Anything to ensure that the audience would be totally captivated by the work.

His visions came to fruition with the inauguration of the festival in Bayreuth in 1876 in the new festival theatre. Here, Der Ring des Nibelunge was performed for the first time in its entirety; the largest opera project ever to be realized. Wagner derived inspiration for the opera from a number of sources, including Nordic mythology, Icelandic sagas and the epic medieval poem, Nibelungenlied. The idea of three performances over three days, with Das Rheingold as the prelude, is something Wagner based on the ancient Greek festivals in honour of the gods, which comprised an initial day followed by three days where tragedies and singing were performed.

In Das Rheingold, the foundations are laid for the conflict that permeates the entire opera cycle: the struggle for love and power. The Rhinemaidens watch over the gold at the bottom of the river Rhine. The greedy dwarf Alberich flirts with them but when they laugh at him, he renounces love and steals their gold. He has been told that whoever forges a ring of gold will have absolute power over the world. Now nature has been deprived of its gold, the balance of existence is disturbed, and the world is doomed to go under…

Even in the opera music itself, Wagner was a true innovator. Instead of arias and recitals, he wrote “the eternal melody”, a flow where lyrics and music are closely intertwined. He also used leitmotifs, musical motifs that are linked to situations, ideas, places or characters, and which contribute to elucidating the characters’ inner thoughts and feelings. But that pales in comparison when it comes to Wagner’s incredible ability to use music to portray the storyline. Here, the role of the orchestra is equal to that of the singers, and in terms of his refined skills in orchestration, Wagner had few superiors.

It is not the first time that Esa-Pekka Salonen has taken on Wagner at the Baltic Sea Festival. In 2012, he conducted an acclaimed performance of Tristan and Isolde. But the performance of Das Rheingold will be a first for this world-renowned conductor when it comes to Der Ring des Nibelunge. The performance is a collaboration with the Finnish National Opera in Helsinki, where Salonen will conduct the entire opera cycle during the period 2019-2021.

Text: Axel Lindhe



Esa-Pekka Salonen’s restless innovation drives him constantly to reposition classical music in the 21st century. In 2020, he will become the Music Director of the San Francisco Symphony. He is the Principal Conductor and Artistic Advisor for London’s Philharmonia Orchestra, where the award-winning RE-RITE and Universe of Sound installations have allowed people all over the world to step inside the orchestra through audio and video projections. Salonen also drove the development of a much-hailed tablet app, The Orchestra, which gives the user unprecedented access to the internal workings of eight symphonic works.

As the Music Director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, where he is now Conductor Laureate, Salonen was instrumental in opening the Frank Gehry-designed Walt Disney Concert Hall and made the orchestra one of the best attended and funded in the country. He is the Artist in Association at the Finnish National Opera and Ballet, and the co-founder of the annual Baltic Sea Festival. In 2015, he addressed the Apple Distinguished Educator conference on the uses of technology in music education.

The baritone Tommi Hakala has made a name for himself through his interpretations of Wagner, Puccini, Mozart, Verdi and Tchaikovsky. He has appeared at the Metropolitan Opera, Staatsoper Dresden and De Vlaamse Opera, as well as at several international festivals. Recently, he has performed with the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra, at the Opera Festival Savonlinna and as Viktor in Sebastian Fagerlund’s Autumn Sonata. In the Finnish National Opera’s performance of Der Ring des Nibelunge, he debuts as Wotan in Das Rheingold and Die Walküre and as The Wanderer in Siegfried.

Tuomas Katajala studied at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki, as well as in Rome and Amsterdam. Since autumn 2009, he has been affiliated with the Finnish National Opera where he has performed Tamino in Mozart’s The Magic Flute, the lead role in Britten’s Albert Herring, Camille de Rossilon in Léhar’s The Merry Widow and Hans in Jüri Reinvere’s Purge. His concert performances include Mozart’s Zaide at the Kuhmo Chamber Music Festival and Verdi’s Requiem at the Royal Albert Hall in London and Avery Fischer Hall in New York.

Acclaimed Mahler singer Lilli Paasikivi has performed both Das Lied von der Erde and Des Knaben Wunderhorn with Esa-Pekka Salonen and the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Kindertotenlieder with Michael Tilson Thomas and the New World Symphony and Mahler’s Eighth Symphony with Sir Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic. She made her debut with the New York Philharmonic in the première of Rodion Shchedrin’s The Enchanted Wanderer. At the Finnish National Opera, she recently played Geneviève in Debussy’s Pelléas and Mélisande.

Dramatic soprano Reetta Haavisto debuted in 2011 at the Finnish National Opera as Madama Cortese in Rossini’s Il Viaggio a Reims. Since then, she has performed roles such as Norina in Donizetti’s Don Pasquale and Liù in Verdi’s Turandot. As a concert singer she has performed Sibelius’s Kullervo and Verdi’s Requiem, as well as songs by Strauss, Sibelius and Rachmaninov. In 2017, she made her debut at the Mariinsky Theatre and as the lead role in Strauss’s Arabella at the Aino Ackté Festival in Helsinki.

The bass baritone Tuomas Pursio studied at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki and the International Opera Studio at Opernhaus Zurich and made his debut in 1996 at Deutsche Oper. His repertoire includes the four villains in Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann, Wurm in Verdi’s Luisa Miller, the title role in Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro and Mephistopheles in Gounod’s Faust. He played Andrej Kovrine in the world première of Philippe Hersant’s The Black Monk at the Leipzig Opera and at the Finnish National Opera he recently played Scarpia in Puccini’s Tosca.

The versatile tenor Markus Nykänen is equally comfortable in the lead role in the newly written opera Indigo by Eicca Toppinen and Perttu Kivilaakso as he is as Lopas in Berlioz’s Les Troyens or Remendado in Bizet’s Carmen. At the Finnish National Opera, he recently played both Raoul in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera and the Tenor in Iiro Rantala’s Sanatorio Express. He has performed several major roles at both Theater Basel and the Hamburg State Opera and is also a much sought-after concert singer.

Sari Nordqvist graduated from the Sibelius Academy in 1999 and debuted the same year at the Finnish National Opera as Vera Boronel in Menotti’s The Consul. At the Finnish National Opera she recently played Mary in Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman, Madame Giry in Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera and Albine in Massenet’s Thaïs. Her repertoire also includes Ulrica in Verdi’s A Masked Ball, the Black Lady in Mikko Heiniö’s The Knight and the Dragon and Brigitta in Korngold’s Die tote Stadt.

The Finnish-German baritone Jukka Rasilainen is known for his acclaimed performances at the festivals in Bayreuth and Savonlinna, at Opernhaus Zürich  and at the Semperoper Dresden. He has played Wagner roles such as Amfortas in Parsifal, the leading role in The Flying Dutchman and Telramund in Lohengrin, but also roles such as Tonio in Leoncavallo’s Pajazzo, Scarpia in Puccini’s Tosca and Amonasro in Verdi’s Aida. At the Finnish National Opera, he recently played Klingsor in Wagner’s Parsifal.

The tenor Dan Karlström made his debut at the Finnish National Opera as Tobias in Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd and since then has appeared as Yonas in Kaija Saariaho’s Adriana Mater and Pedrillo in Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail. Since 2001, he has been a permanent member of the Leipzig Opera, where he recently played Mime in Wagner’s Das Rheingold and Monostatos in Mozart’s The Magic Flute. He has also played Goro in Puccini’s Madame Butterfly at the festival in Savonlinna and performed as tenor soloist in Mario Schröder’s ballet based on Bach’s St John Passion.

The Estonian bass Koit Soasepp changed career after 15 years in agriculture and after just one year of vocal studies, he made his debut at both the Estonian and Finnish National Operas. In Helsinki, he has since developed a broad repertoire including Sarastro in Mozart’s The Magic Flute and Pimen in Musorgsky’s Boris Godunov, as well as Titurel in Wagner’s Parsifal and the Priest in Shostakovich’s Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk. Most recently, he played the King in Verdi’s Aida and the Bishop in Jaakko Kuusisto’s Ice.

Jyrki Korhonen has been affiliated with the Finnish National Opera since 2001, and before that the opera houses in Wiesbaden and Darmstadt. He has several Mozart roles on his repertoire: Osmin in Die Entführung aus dem Serail, Sarastro and Speaker of the Temple in The Magic Flute and as well as Bartolo in The Marriage of Figaro; and Wagner roles such as Fafner and Fasolt in Das Rheingold, Hermann in Tannhäuser and Hagen in Götterdämmerung. Soon he will be playing Arkel in Debussy’s Pelléas and Mélisande, Ramfis in Verdi’s Aida and Palémon in Massenet’s Thaïs.

After graduating with the highest marks from the Sibelius Academy, the soprano Marjukka Tepponen has performed with most Finnish orchestras and many major European ensembles. She made her debut at the Finnish National Opera in 2010 as Zerlina in Mozart’s Don Giovanni, where she also played Mimi in Puccini’s La Bohème, Corinna in Rossini’s Il Viaggio a Reims and most recently, she played Mona Kummel in Jaakko Kuusisto’s Ice. She has worked at the opera houses in Graz and Seattle and at festivals in Rijeka, Bregenz and Savonlinna.

The Finnish opera singer Mari Palo has a unique and versatile repertoire that includes both Pamina in Mozart’s The Magic Flute and Musetta in Puccini’s La Bohème, but also Tytti in Jaakko Kuusisto’s The Canine Kaleva, Vera in Olli Kortekanga’s Daddy’s Girl and Refka in Kaija Saariah’s Adriana Mater. She made her debut in 1999 at the Finnish National Opera where she played the Countess in The Marriage of Figaro, Micaela in Bizet’s Carmen and Marian in Jukka Linkola’s Robin Hood, and more recently she played Mona Kummel in Jaakko Kuusisto’s Ice.