Kullervo Op. 61

by Aulis Sallinen

opera in two acts

Empty sheet

Aulis Sallinen

Kullervo Op. 61



On the Dramaturgy and Characters of Kullervo

This story ends with the suicide of the main protagonist. If the action does not logically and inevitably lead to Kullervo’s self-destruction as a release from life, the story has no point.

The elements of this work are fire and stone. Kullervo sets himself alight, and indeed his first conscious memory is of fire, because the home of his parents was destroyed amid flame and smoke. Where his heart should be, Kullervo bears a stone throughout his life. We do not know what it has been originally, but we constantly see the stony shell that the world has deposited upon it. Only once, in the bed of the Smith’s Young Wife, the stone is about to melt into flowing lava, but Kullervo’s impotence prevents even that. The stone is also the symbol of hardness: the Smith’s Wife bakes a stone inside Kullervo’s loaf of bread, and on the stone he breaks the knife he has inherited from his father.

The fates of the various characters are interwoven, and so are the musical elements characteristic of them. Kimmo loves his childhood friend Kullervo with all the intensity of his honest and lyrical nature. It is not only possible, but inevitable, that his mind in the end cannot bear the dark progression of events. The Hunter is an everyday rogue who exploits every situation and always manages to survive. The relationship of Unto and his wife has something of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth in it. The Smith’s Young Wife’s sensuousness is so strongly charged that when she has to choose between her property — her cattle — and the young man, she chooses the latter. And it is easy to see Kalervo’s inheritance in his son Kullervo. Neither is able to influence the world; on the contrary, the external world dominates them.

Writing an opera is like a long journey. When you set out on it, you have only one aim: to reach your destination, to tell the story to its end. You must constantly be prepared for changes and surprises. That is what happened here, too: many things ended up differently from the original intention, yet something was preserved too. Four years ago, when I was contemplating the basis of the opera, I wrote: “It would hardly be worth telling this story if it did not have one song above all others. That is the Mother’s theme, woven in bright golden thread. In the shape of the monstrous, hapless man the Mother recognizes the long-lost little boy with glimmering flaxen hair.” Now, when the work is completed, I still feel the same. That is how he turned out.

© Aulis Sallinen

(for the premiere of the opera in Los Angeles, February 25, 1992)

See Synopsis in English and Finnish


3333 4331 13 1, synth, str, chx, 2sopr solo, mezzo solo, alto solo, 4baryt solo, 3ten solo, basso solo, voc solo, actor [fl+pic, ob+ehn, cl+bcl, cl+cl in Eb, fag+cfag.]


Works for the Stage



Opus no.



Kalevala (san.)Kivi Aleksis (san.)


Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, cond. Ulf Söderblom, Finnish National Opera Choir and soloists, Los Angeles, February 27, 1992.

Commisioned by / dedications

Commissioned by the Finnish National Opera.

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