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Sallinen – The King Goes Forth to France

Guildhall School of Music and Drama

4 & 6 March 2009


Guide – Nicky Spence / Carlos Nogueira

Prime Minister / Young Prime Minister – Jonathan Sells

Froissart – Barnaby Rea

Prince / King – Derek Welton / Njabulo Madlala

The Nice Caroline – Rebecca van den Berg / Eva Ganizate

The Caroline with the Thick Mane – Raquel Luis / Sara Gonzalez Saavedra

The Anne who Steals – Rhona McKail / Anna Devin

The Anne who Strips – Hanna Hipp

English Archer – Andrew Finden

The Queen of England – Maire Flavin

Burghers of Calais – Thomas Herford, Lionel Pinheiro, Alexander Robin Baker, Gary Griffiths, Duncan Rock, Thomas Kennedy


Clive Timms - Conductor

Martin Lloyd-Evans – Director

Yannis Thavoris – Designer

Giuseppe di Iorio - Lighting



The hitch hikers guide to the 100 years war” sprang to my mind as an alternative title for this opera.

Like Douglas Adams’ classic, Kuningas l
ätee Ranskann, to give it its Finnish title, began life as a play for radio with the unique freedom of a sound-only medium to create an almost boundless fantasy in the minds of its listeners.


In a new Ice Age parable for our times, the Prince-to-become King of England decides to march across the now frozen English Channel to re-enact the opening offensives of the 100 Years War, accompanied by his assiduous Prime Minister-to-become-hereditary Prime Minister, four Princesses aspiring-to-become Queen (pictured) and the meagre army that state funding can provide.


Aulis Sallinen’s score constructs the bridge that converts the piece for stage, providing a wealth of nuance and colour to illuminate the action. Presenting it live in a relatively small theatre is a huge undertaking and GSMD are to be congratulated on taking up the challenge and their achievement in carrying it off with considerable aplomb.


Events are chronicled as they take place by Froissart (a spoken role, ably performed by Barnaby Rea) and which allow director Martin Lloyd Evans to convey key points and additional information on a couple of monitor screens – a similar device to that used in the televised version of The Hitch-hikers Guide.  Throughout his very skilled and detailed direction provides just the right balance between on the one hand a zany sense of humour and the explicit horrors of war, and between history in its familiar school-book sense and in the context of current events – two most difficult tightropes to walk.


Yannis Thavoris’s minimal designs are effective and leave space for the 30 strong chorus to be accommodated on stage with seeming ease, though many hours of rehearsal were no doubt involved. 


As one would expect, text is all important, and with a big orchestra of more than 70 players to ride, it was inevitable that at least a proportion of the sopranos’ words in particular would be masked.  Surtitles would have helped, but there was already so much happening on stage that for some viewers they would also have been a distraction. On the whole I endorse GSMD’s decision to rely on the audience’s powers of listening. *


Overall this was nothing short of a triumph from all concerned.  Further remarks concerning individual performances will be added after the alternative cast sing on 6 March.


Serena Fenwick


* For those wishing to read the libretto in full I would recommend the excellent Helsinki Philharmonic 2005 recording sung in Finnish and including texts in both languages [Ondine ODE 1066-2D].


Photos: © Nobby Clark