Dominus Krabbe is a real person from the 17th century – a wretched priest who was ejected from his office due to drinking and who ended up living as a dependent lodger in other people’s houses. In the ghost ballad written by the poet P. Mustapää, guilt drives Krabbe down from the hereafter to make confessions. In the height of the midsummer feast, Krabbe appears as a ghost in his old parsonage, determined to settle his scores by preaching in his church for the last time. Referring to the destinies of St. John, Herod, Herodias and Salome, he manages to resolve his suicidal anguish and its original source: “All those who have killed themselves have done it because of Salome.”
The flip side of guilt is to lay a guilt trip on others. In this story, such is the lot that falls on the puritan church and its representatives, and Krabbe’s portrait serves as a symbol of the exercise of power over people. The icy, stern and all-seeing eyes of the portrait hanging on the sacristy wall cause pangs of conscience among the parish members: the young master of the parsonage sneaks home from the midsummer dances in fear of his father, the maid Amanda feels lazy in the morning, the farmhand Eprami strolls back home veiled in the rosy mist of omnipotence, the church keeper Optaatus is inclined to superstition and tippling, and the young ladies of the parsonage carry the sins of pride and parade, and feelings of class superiority. In the shadow of the ghost Krabbe, innocent deeds suddenly appear as the most blood-red sins. But after all the preaching is done, scales fall from the eyes of the parishioners: the dreaded authority turns out to be as wretched a sinner as any one of us. Redemption presents itself in the liberating joy of life: “And the beautiful girl danced in the aisle like Salome.”
In this work, in the form of a monologue opera, the dramaturgy is mostly brought about by the diversified singing voice. The register of the singer, reaching from a low baritone to the heights of a countertenor, transforms into seven different characters. This transformation is supported by the décacorde, the ten-stringed guitar, with its melodic and rhythmic patterns, sounds and textures that follow the singing voice. The focal point of the opera is the priest Krabbe. He is a grim and low-minded figure, and the terror he evokes is cried out in high falsetto voice. The musical idiom, built up from small motifs and archaic moods, is spiced up with a couple of grimly familiar liturgical motifs, exclamations of Kyrie and laments of Dies Irae.
Dominus Krabbe is dedicated to its commissioners and first performers, countertenor Teppo Lampela and décacordist Mari Mäntylä.
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On 24th August 2012, the candle-lit German Church in Helsinki provided an enthralling location for the premiere of Pekka Jalkanen‘s third opera Dominus Krabbe, in which Krabbe, a priest who died with high levels of guilt, returns to haunt his home parsonage. This ballad, tinged with humour, written by the poet P. Mustapää, has turned into a baroque ghost story, in which the vocal talent of the countertenor Teppo Lampela formed the basis for the intensive narrative: the monologue ballad made the most of Lampela’s voice registers, from the growling bass-baritone, through the transparent tenor up to the airy and piercing sounds of a countertenor, which contributed to convey and illustrate the story. Jalkanen used the extensive range of a countertenor in both of his earlier operas, Tirlittan (1986) and Seven Scarves (1990.)
In Dominus Krabbe, the melodic qualities of the voice came first, and the use of the extensive range was not emphasized by any kind of vocal acrobatics. Instead of separate blocks, the different registers formed a rich and expressively applied continuum of shades, within which Lampela shifted with phenomenal ease as if the voice was just following unresistingly the changing feelings of various characters in the story, at times through sharp cuts, but always with lucid clarity. Also the epic musical texture woven by Mari Mäntylä on the ten-stringed guitar, or the décacorde, flow unrestrained, captivating the listeners. In the mysterious flow of musical texture, Finnish hymn melodies and Iberian accents were entwined in an exotic manner, and occasionally the singing voice of the guitarist further enriched the tonal palette.
The poem of Mustapää provided a clear structure for the monologue opera in which blameless citizens are tormented by the chilling portrait of Krabbe. One after another, they meet the ghost priest who is possessed by his guilt. When Krabbe finally climbs into the pulpit for the last time, and preaches on the imperfection that unites all men and their shattered souls, the tension is lifted.
The skilful direction by Kimmo Kahra turned the opera into a series of still-life narrative situations, in which Lampela settled himself in different positions around coffin-like wooden objects. In the impressive costumes, designed by Reija Laine, Lampela was presented as a zombie-priest yearning for salvation, but at the same time he transformed into all characters, from the young ladies of the parsonage to the merry farmhand.
Auli Särkiö, Rondo
The many-sidedness of the voice and stage personality of Teppo Lampela has inspired Jalkanen to compose vividly varying vocal lines. The text was clearly rendered and the narration was easy to follow. Each story added to the intensity of the work, reaching its culmination in the impressive sermon of the ghost Krabbe. The basic ambience of the opera is serious, but the tale of the church guard Optaatus brings some necessary humorous relief. Shaven-headed Lampela had the apt look of a ghost, resembling somewhat the Frost creature in Hugo Simberg’s painting, or the mummy-like figure in The Scream by Edvard Munch.
The décacorde part, played by Mari Mäntylä, has been written with colourful orchestral style. Based on archetypal melodic passages, the décacorde weaves an intensively smooth texture, upon which the vocal line is drawn. Like the guitar, the décacorde is an optimal companion for a singing voice, as it never overruns even the faintest sighs of the singer. In a couple of places Mäntylä joined in the singing too.
The direction of Kimmo Kahra and the costumes of Reija Laine created a clear and ritual-like setting for the performance. The staging emphasized aptly the dream-like timelessness of Jalkanen’s opera.
Juha T Koskinen, Amfion
Substantial artistic contribution from Finland
Jalkanen conjures an intense tonal tapestry that shows in close up the reflections of emotions and feelings, incidents and life. This work is a close-up of a tale and human mind in that moves effortlessly and leans confidently on small details. The accompanying instrument is like a live set piece, an elven spirit hovering above everything and playing an organic part in the scene.
Teppo Lampela has an extensive vocal range, wider-reaching than the average voice – from a countertenor to a fairly low baritone. There are enough expressive shades and personal features in his interpretative arsenal to convey the various passages of the poem. An absorbing, captivating role performance.
Mari Mäntylä’s décacorde is, indeed, sufficient for providing the accompaniment. It creates a very intimate atmosphere, easily sensed by the listener. The expressive spectrum floods with nuances, both with intense intimacy and eruptive boisterousness. There seems to be no technical barriers hindering the player.
The main theme of Kimmo Kahra’s direction lies in the reductive sharpening of the story, relying on close focusing. The tightly written, compact narrative is an excellent vehicle for the monologue style of the opera. The scarce, transformable materials of the staging by Reija Laine work brilliantly. They serve the story well. The costumes designed and sewn by Nina Ukkonen attract well-deserved admiration.
We had the chance to listen to the versatile voice of Teppo Lampela in his renderings of vocal works by John Dowland and J.S Bach. Lampela has developed with great leaps, and his relatively lucid, flowingly sonorous voice has both stamina and the ability to glide along with an homogenous sound, it reveals a variety of shades and considerable power.
Mari Mäntylä does not need special effects to bolster her playing. Her playing is carefully nuanced, but if needs be, the scope and depth of the resonance acquires different kinds of expressions. As well as providing an excellent accompaniment, Mäntylä demonstrated a high level of technical mastery in her rendition of Downland’s imperishable Lachrimae Pavane. Disarming single tones of the instrument offered bewildering beauty, clear as a child’s gaze.
Matti Saurama, Demari newspaper
The monologue opera by Pekka Jalkanen speaks to us through the best qualities of its performers.
This work emphasizes Lampela’s inexhaustible ability to modify his voice and presence: all seven characters of the story are given their own characteristics. Thanks to the accurate articulation, the text was clearly audible and the performance was thus easy to follow. The quality of the singing was excellent throughout the performance, despite Lampela being required to sing constantly for almost an hour.
Mari Mäntylä’s décacorde built a continuously developing undertone for the narration of various characters. The masterful accompaniment was mixed with subtle references to renaissance, baroque and church music, but as a whole, the musical idiom was strongly original.
Mattias Mattila, Turun Sanomat newspaper
In the hands of Pekka Jalkanen, the story of Krabbe has become a long dramatic cantata with a baroque air, in which one may distinguish motifs from Finnish folk music, medieval church music, flamenco-like orientalism, Latin music and also takes references from archaic musical sources. Teppo Lampela draws ghostly scenes using the different registers of his voice and crows creepy melismas with a hysteric falsetto. Although Lampela’s singing often jumps wildly like a see-saw, the lyrics are clearly discernible. Mari Mäntylä created an exuberant and rich resounding scene for Krabbe’s haunting, using the décacorde, the ten-stringed guitar. In many places, the guitar moves in a masterful and independent counterpoint to the soloist’s voice.
Hannu-Ilari Lampila, Helsingin Sanomat
Both Teppo Lampela and Mari Mäntylä are convincing as interpreters.
HBL, Wilhelm Kvist