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Jonas Forssell Thine is the Kingdom

Music & Libretto: Jonas Forssell
Director: Asa Melldahl
Musical Director: Thomas Schuback

Phono Suecia PSDVD 02

[Swedish TV2, 1992: 4/3: 104 mins]

Scandinavian opera is a rich field to till (I have recommended in recent years several examples by composers unknown in UK) and Jonas Forssell (composer in residence at Malmö Opera Theatre) is the latest to deserve serious attention from those of our smaller opera companies not constrained by insularity. Thine is the Kingdom (1991) is an opera buffo which treats with the lightest of touches the deeply serious and ever topical subjects of torture and asylum.

It is played in a convent where the nuns protect a group of Spanish speaking refugees due to be forcibly repatriated to South America, and is based upon real events at the Alsike Convent, Uppsala, which had around the '80s been hiding victims of persecution who became latterly victims of the inhuman Swedish asylum policy.

Political farce can be a potent brew (c.f. Italy's Dario Fo) and this low cost production, filmed in a tiny theatre in Vadstena, is a model of the genre, and ideal for home entertainment. It is very funny indeed.

There is a cast of ten plus three non-speaking children's roles. The Swedish TV production is to the highest standards musical, theatrical and filmic, and is a joy to watch from beginning to happy end. The music makes its impression only gradually, in a deceptively light and accessible idiom, often polytonal like Milhaud's, just right for the treatment of its several interlocking themes.

Jonas Forssell (pictured below) believes that to prevent a comic opera becoming 'a pot-pourri of tunes and ad-hoc music' you have to be very structured (not solely for comedy, c.f. Britten's Turn of the Screw & Berg's Wozzeck). There is an elaborate underlying scheme with twelve scenes representing twelve apostles and happening at the twelve hours, each with one of twelve key notes in the chromatic scale... None of this need concern the viewer/listener. The seven instrumental players are characterised (as by Prokofiev for Peter and the Wolf ) as archangels and the trombone erupts towards the stage as the Retaliator, representing the Police.

There are several wonderful scenes, the best perhaps a herbs dialogue between a couple who find a common language through food. The cast is uniformly excellent and if you have reservations about undergoing vicariously again the harrowing experiences of Poulenc's Carmelite nuns (his opera shortly to be revived by ENO) do try these exemplars of the defenders of the sanctity of churches against harsh national laws undermining charitable humanitarian impulses.

The DVD has subtitles in the usual languages and the illustrated booklet (a generous 125 pages) has the composer's libretto in Swedish, English and German, fully illustrated. College opera companies worldwide should be vying with each other to give Thine is the Kingdom national premières.

© Peter Grahame Woolf