|Opera by Leevi Madetoja|
The composer, c. 1920s
|Librettist||Leevi Madetoja & Aino Ackté|
by Juhani Aho
Juha, Op. 74, is an verismo opera in three acts (or six tableaux) by the Finnish composer Leevi Madetoja, who wrote the piece from 1931-34. The libretto, a collaboration between Madetoja and the Finnish soprano Aino Ackté, is based on Juhani Aho's novel by the same name. The story takes place around 1880 in northern Finland, and features as its central conflict a love triangle between the farmer Juha, his young wife Marja, and a Karelian merchant, Shemeikka. Disillusioned with rural life and seduced by promises of material comfort and romance, Marja runs away with Shemeikka; Juha, who maintains his wife has been abducted, eventually discovers her betrayal and kills himself.
On 17 February 1935, the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra premiered the work at the Finnish National Opera under the baton of Armas Järnefelt. Although a success at its premiere, Juha failed to match the popularity of Madetoja's first opera, The Ostrobothnians; enthusiasm quickly faded and the inaugural production fizzled in February 1938, for a total of just 13 performances. Despite two mini-revivals in Madetoja's lifetime, he considered it the greatest disappointment of his career. Today, the opera is rarely performed and has been supplanted in the operatic repertoire by Aarre Merikanto's modernist 1922 version (first performed in 1963), which is based upon the same libretto.
For Madetoja, the 1930s brought hardship and disappointment. During this time, he was at work on two new major projects: a second opera, Juha, and a fourth symphony, each to be his final labor in their respective genres. The former, with a libretto by the famous Finnish soprano, Aino Ackté (adapted from the 1911 novel by writer Juhani Aho), had fallen to Madetoja after a series of events: first, Sibelius--ever the believer in "absolute music"--had refused the project in 1914;[n 1] and, second, in 1922, the Finnish National Opera had rejected a first attempt by Aarre Merikanto as "too Modernist" and "too demanding on the orchestra", leading the composer to withdraw the score.[n 2] Two failures in, Ackté thus turned to Madetoja, the successful The Ostrobothnians of whom was firmly ensconced in the repertoire, to produce a safer, more palatable version of the opera.
The death of Madetoja's mother, Anna, on 26 March 1934, interrupted his work on the opera; the loss so devastated Madetoja that he fell ill and could not travel to Oulu for the funeral.[n 3] Madetoja completed work on the opera by the end of 1934 and it premiered to considerable fanfare at the Finnish National Opera on 17 February 1935, the composer's forty-eighth birthday. The critics hailed it as a "brilliant success", an "undisputed masterpiece of Madetoja and Finnish opera literature". Nevertheless, the "euphoria" of the initial performance eventually wore off and, to the composer's disappointment, Juha did not equal the popularity of The Ostrobothnians. Indeed, today Juha is most associated with Merikanto, whose modernist Juha (first performed in the 1960s) is the more enduringly popular of the two; having been displaced by Merikanto's, Madetoja's Juha is rarely performed.
The score calls for 3 sopranos, mezzo-soprano, tenor, baritone, bass, and orchestra.
|Role||Character description||Voice type||Premiere cast|
(17 February 1935)
|Juha||Backwoods Finnish farmer, husband of Marja||Baritone||Toivo Louko|
|Marja||Juha's young wife||Soprano||Irja Aholainen|
|Shemeikka||Proposperous Karelian peddler||Tenor||Alfons Alm|
|Mother-in-law (Anoppi)||Juha's mother||Alto||Lahja Linko|
|Kaisa||Hired girl on Juha's farm||Soprano||Karin Ehder|
|The Vicar (Rovasti)||Parish cleryman||Bass||Bruno Jorma|
|Anja||Shemeikka's former summer sweetheart||Soprano||Mary Hannikainen|
|First maiden||Additional former summer fling of Shemeikka||Soprano||Airi Osa|
|Second maiden||Additional former summer fling of Shemeikka||Alto||Martta Seppälä|
|First man||A friend in Shemeikka's entourage||Tenor||Emil Mantila|
|Second man||A friend in Shemeikka's entourage||Bass||Erkki Eklund|