Sunday, August 28, 2011


Sorry about the delay with the last Three Days of West End story. For a reason or another, talking about The Phantom of the Opera doesn't inspire me, even though I adore the show. Maybe another time, maybe not, we'll see. But now...

Jesus Christ Superstar with Lahti Symphony Orchestra in Sibelius Hall, Lahti, 27.8.2011.

JCS is one of those shows I have wanted to see for ages.
The premise is so weird - a musical about the life and death of Jesus Christ? Wow. And I've loved the music ever since I first heard it, some of my favourite musical theatre songs of all time are from it. Of course I was excited when I heard it was being done and rushed to get the tickets.
Still, I didn't get my hopes really high when the day approached. I had read bad reviews about some of the actors, and, for a reason I can't really articulate, I just didn't feel all that extatic. Either school pressure or the bored pessimist in me taking charge, I guess. Or both.

So, I'm glad to tell you this concert surpassed the little expectations I had and ranked itself among my favourite productions of all time.

Sibelius Hall

I had never visited Sibelius Hall before, and I have to say, it's pretty fancy. It's, to all you non-Finnish readers out there, named after maybe the most appreciated Finnish composer and situated next to a lake, with lots of wooden details. I think "the epitome of all things Finnish" was the architect's inspiration...
Me and my friend had amazing seats: second row, right in the middle, and by a stroke of luck no one sat in front of us. At first, I was afraid it was too close, but actually, it was perfect. I've a somewhat eccentric Finnish teacher who once told us he likes to sit in the very front in theatre because "you'll get the best vibes there". I'm starting to agree.

The show sounded great with the whole symphony orchestra and a big choir. I'm afraid we were a little too close for perfect acoustics, since it sometimes felt the voices and sounds blurred into each other a bit (even though the hall's acoustics are sometimes mentioned among the world's best), but since we got to watch the performers so closely - and the blurring was still much milder than in many other shows I've seen - it didn't matter much at all.

As for the performances... 
The only disappointment of the night was Sami Hintsanen's Judas. His voice suited the part very well, but I didn't really get the feeling his character felt much anything. He more sung the part than acted it, and even though it's in a concert form, it's still a piece of theatre... Also, some of his mannerisms really started to bug me after a while.
But everyone else, in my opinion, did a beautiful job. Maria Ylipää was lovely - as always! - as Maria Magdalene, but it was Hannu Lepola's Jesus that really did it for me. He was perfect. His voice was gorgeous, and his expression was, indeed, of "the haunting, hunted kind". His was maybe the best Gethsemane I've ever heard, it was gorgeous and warranted a huge applause. A beautiful, strong performance.
Not to say the smaller parts were any worse! I really liked them all, they had huge energy and did justice to their roles, but my favourite was perhaps Anssi Valikainen's Pilate. You really felt for the character when watching him; you saw the character's inner struggle when he was facing the difficult decisions he has to face. Great, great job.

I think Jesus Christ Superstar is one of those shows that work with really little staging, so the concert setting didn't bother me at all. The piece is, without any doubt, strong enough to hold on its own without fancy sets or big dance scenes.
The weirdest fact of the night was that the whole piece was sung in English, since usually musicals are translated into Finnish around here. However, I understand their decision. Opera isn't translated either, and having a look at the Finnish lyrics that ran above the stage as subtitles confirmed what I've heard said before: the Finnish translation is a bad one. It had a couple of clever moments, but it also had at least five awkward wordings per every smart line. If you're translating Jesus Christ Superstar, I feel you should be extra careful with those bits that have biblical references. "It is finished" has a little different feeling than the translation's "It's over now!"...

The applause after the show was rather huge. For the first time, though, I realised what the person who once spoke about applause being distruptive here in my blog's comments meant. JCS is such a strong story - I think I would have needed a minute's silence before applause to get my train of thought back to everyday world again.

All in all, an amazing night.

The picture is not mine.

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