Kaija Saariaho (1952-2023)

Innocence (2018)

opera in five acts

stage work

  • General information
    • Composition date: 2018
    • Duration: 1 h 45 mn
    • Publisher: Chester Music
    • Commission: Festival International d'Art Lyrique d'Aix-en-Provence ; Royal Opera House Covent Garden ; Finnish National Opera ; San Francisco Opera ; Dutch National Opera
    • Libretto (details, author):

      Sofi Oksanen, traduit par Aleksi Barrière.

Detailed formation
  • soloists: 2 sopranos, mezzo-soprano, tenor, 2 baritones, unspecified female voice, 5 singing voices [comédiens] , unspecified female voice [Sprechgesang]
  • mixed choir(singing voice [SATB])
  • 3 piccolos [aussi 2 flûtes alto] , 3 oboes, 3 bass clarinets, 3 contrabassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, 4 percussionists, harp, piano, celesta, 14 violins, 12 second violins, 10 violas, 8 cellos, double bass

Premiere information

  • Date: 3 July 2021

    France, festival d’Aix-en-Provence

Program note

An opera in five acts to be presented without interval. The main singing language is English and additional languages are Finnish, Czech, French, Romanian, Swedish, German, Spannish, Greek.

The opera takes place on a summer evening, in the 2000s, in Helsinki.
There has been a shooting at an international school in Helsinki: ten students and one teacher have been killed. A student of the school shot them with a weapon he stole from his father’s cupboard. Because he was underage at the moment of the deed, he didn’t face criminal charges, but was handled by Child protection and then processed to psychiatric care.
Ten years later, the shooter’s younger brother is getting married with a woman he met in Romania. The bride doesn’t know about the past events. This younger brother wanted to marry someone who wouldn’t see him first and foremost as the shooter’s brother. The family has decided it would be better to hide the shooter-brother’s existence from the bride.
One of the waiters of the company supposed to organize the wedding’s catering has fallen ill, and a waitress called as a replacement happens to be the mother of one of the shooting’s victims. It is only upon arrival that she understands to who’s wedding she has been sent, and she is even more shocked when she understands from an overheard conversation that the shooter has recently been released and has started a new life under a new identity. He has not been invited to the wedding, though, because the bridegroom doesn’t want to see his brother ever again.
This is too much for the waitress. As she is serving the wedding cake, she snaps, and demands explanations for the shooter’s actions from his parents. The waitress’s unforeseen behaviour forces the family to tell about the tragedy to the bride. Her reaction is not the one they had expected: she is ready to forgive the lies she has been told, because it is her fiancé she fell in love with, not his family.
Nevertheless the groom leaves his wife. This fortuitous encounter has revealed to him that he is unable to escape from his past and his family, even though he has been trying so very hard to do so.
The groom considers himself responsible for the tragedy. He knew his brother was secretly practising shooting and even took part in those sessions. He did so, because he admired his elder brother and craved for his validation. To him it was a game, but had he told someone about it, the tragedy could have been avoided. He has kept this secret for himself all this time.
The story is not centred on the shooter’s motivations and psyche, but rather on the victims and on how the rampage has impacted their lives. The plot brings to light people who have been influential to the deed, and none of them is innocent.

Waitress (Tereza) - Mezzo
Mother-in-law (Patricia) - Coloratura soprano
Father-in-law (Henrik) - Baritone
Bride (Stela) - Lyric Soprano
Groom (Tuomas) - Tenor
Priest - Bass Baritone
Teacher - Female voice (Sprechgesang)
Student 1 (Marketa) - Young folk singer
Student 2 (Lily) - Female voice
Student 3 - Female voice
Student 4 - Male voice
Student 5 (Jeronimo) - Male voice
Student 6 - Female voice