Juha (Madetoja)
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Juha Madetoja
Opera by Leevi Madetoja
Leevi Madetoja (circa 1930s).jpg
The composer, c. 1920s
LibrettistLeevi Madetoja & Aino Ackté
Based on"Juha"
by Juhani Aho
17 February 1925 (1925-02-17)

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),[1] had fallen to Madetoja after a series of events: first, Sibelius--ever the believer in "absolute music"--had refused the project in 1914;[2][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.[4][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.[4]

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.[6][7][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".[6] 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.[6][4]


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


  1. ^ According to Tawaststjerna, Ackté and Aho had first offered the libretto to Sibelius in November 1912, as Ackté had "felt confident that he [Sibelius] would produce something that was both powerful and refined".[3] Interested but noncommittal, Sibelius promised a firm answer within two years. To Ackté's disappointment, Sibelius declined the project in October 1914, finding its "rural verismo uncongenial"[3] and wishing to focus on his Fifth Symphony.[2]
  2. ^ According to Korhonen, while the 1920s featured the rise of Modernism in Finnish music, the national Romanticism was "still alive and well. Sibelius, Melartin, and Madetoja were at the height of their creative powers, and they were admired by the public at large". As such, many Modernist compositions were criticized by critics and a "hostile ... suspicious" public. Many others, were not even performed, "hidden in desk drawers".[5] Merikanto, an emerging modernist composer, likely received the Juha libretto from Ackté around 1920 and, after a "high state of inspiration", completed his score in the winter of 1921. After making revisions to the score in January 1922, Merikanto submitted the work to the board of the Finnish National Opera in the spring. Their rebuke stung Merikanto, and his Juha remained unperformed until 1963 in Lahti, five years after his death.[4]
  3. ^ In 1939, Madetoja published his Second Symphony (1918) using the inheritance money from his mother's death to cover the printing costs; as a tribute, he retroactively dedicated the work to her.[6][7]



  • Pulliainen, Riitta (2000a). Madetoja Orchestral Works 1: I Have Fought My Battle (booklet). Arvo Volmer & Oulu Symphony Orchestra. Tampere, Finland: Alba. p. 4-6. ABCD 132.
  • Pulliainen, Riitta (2001). Madetoja Orchestral Works 4: Laurel Wreaths (booklet). Arvo Volmer & Oulu Symphony Orchestra. Tampere, Finland: Alba. p. 4-8. ABCD 162.
  • Tawaststjerna, Erik (1986). Sibelius: Volume 2, 1904-1914. (Robert Layton, English translation). London: Faber and Faber.
  • Tawaststjerna, Erik (1997). Sibelius: Volume 3, 1914-1957. (Robert Layton, English translation). London: Faber and Faber.
  • Korhonen, Kimmo (2007). Inventing Finnish Music: Contemporary Composers from Medieval to Modern. Finnish Music Information Center (FIMIC). ISBN 978-952-5076-61-5.
  • Salmenhaara, Erkki (1987). Leevi Madetoja (in Finnish). Helsinki: Tammi. ISBN 951-30-6725-4.

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