5 reasons to look forward to ... Innocence
Foto: Marta Syrko

5 reasons to look forward to ... Innocence

14 September 2023


Composer Kaija Saariaho, who passed away this past June at the age of 70, stands as one of the most influential composers of our era. With her intimate soundscapes and remarkable theatrical sensitivity, she played an instrumental role in shaping contemporary opera. Audiences in Amsterdam have previously had the privilege of experiencing her operas at Dutch National Opera. These include Émilie (2010), which sheds light on the 18th century French mathematician and physicist Émilie du Châtelet, and Only the Sound Remains (2016), inspired by Noh theatre. In her most recent opera, Innocence, Saariaho composed one of her most evocative and moving scores, infusing her work with a raw realism.



Innocence delves into the aftermath of a shooting at an international school. What drove the perpetrator to commit this act? Could it have been prevented? And how much blame, if any, lies with his family, friends, and classmates? In this compelling opera thriller, Saariaho tackles a topic that is a burning issue not only in the United States but also in Europe.



The libretto for Innocence comes from the pen of renowned Finnish author Sofi Oksanen, who has authored six novels and several plays. Her third novel, Purge, was translated into an impressive 37 languages, including Dutch. For the creation of the Innocence libretto, Oksanen collaborated closely with dramaturg Aleksi Barrière, notable not only for his work but also as the son of Kaija Saariaho. Set in a Finnish international school, the opera brings together a melting pot of nationalities. While English serves as the primary mode of communication, the characters occasionally switch to their native languages, adding layers of authenticity and depth to their interactions.



Innocence heralds the DNO debut of the Australian director, actor and writer Simon Stone (born 1984). Recognized as one of the most coveted and celebrated theatre visionaries on the global stage, Stone is no newcomer to Amsterdam's arts scene. For the ITA ensemble, he masterfully adapted Euripides' Medea and created productions such as Ibsen House (drawing on the works of the Norwegian maestro), Husbands and Wives (inspired by Woody Allen) and Flight 49 (a reimagining of Herman Heijermans' The Good Hope). His foray into opera began with Korngold's Die Tote Stadt at Theater Basel in 2016. Stone has earned accolades for his contemporary spins on classic narratives and myths. Speaking on Innocence, he reflects, “Unlike my usual approach, my role here isn't to modernize; Innocence is already anchored in today's reality. The true challenge lies in approaching it as an age-old myth, positioning it firmly within the grand opera tradition.”



Innocence represents Saariaho's maiden venture into an opera with a vast and varied cast. Every character is endowed with a distinctive voice, both in linguistic and musical terms. Saariaho crafted a luminous role for Finnish singer Vilma Jää, renowned for her prowess in classical Finnish folkloric music, and she introduced a special form of Sprechgesang (a technique that straddles the line between speech and song) for the character of The Teacher. The production also features characters who use only their speaking voice, while ensuring the presence of traditional operatic vocalizations.

  • Innocence can be seen at Dutch National Opera from October 7 to 22, 2023