7-22 Oct 2023


Dutch National Opera & Ballet, Main Stage

Running time

1:45, no interval




Psychological thriller on the opera stage

The new opera Innocence delves into the aftermath of a school shooting. A topical tale of guilt, forgiveness and being haunted for life by traumatic events. Dutch National Opera presents the latest work by the Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho, one of the most frequently performed contemporary composers in the world. The libretto is by compatriot and bestselling author Sofi Oksanen and dramaturg Aleksi Barrière, a specialist of new music theatre and multilingual dramaturgy.

Who is free of guilt?

A mass shooting takes place at an international school. Ten years later, the shooter’s younger brother gets married and hopes to put this history behind him for good. However, the wedding turns into a confrontation with the past. Traumas that had been suppressed by all the individuals involved resurface, and the distinction between perpetrator and victim becomes increasingly blurred.

The world premiere of Innocence was in 2021 at the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence, where the opera was highly praised by critics. With the force of a psychological thriller, it shows the far-reaching effects of violence, while Kaija Saariaho’s music reverberates more than ever before with the sounds of raw realism.


The makers

The Australian theatre, film and opera director Simon Stone, who caused a stir in the Netherlands with his impressive theatrical productions at the Holland Festival and ITA (Flight 49, Medea and Ibsen House), will be making his debut at Dutch National Opera with his staging of Saariaho’s latest work. After Émilie (2010) and Only the Sound Remains (2016), Innocence is Saariaho’s third work to be performed by Dutch National Opera.

The Swiss-Australian conductor Elena Schwarz, an ardent advocate of new music, makes her DNO-debut with Innocence. Four audience favourites – Dutch singers Lilian Farahani, Lenneke Ruiten, Frederik Bergman and Thomas Oliemans – will also be starring in this opera.

Performance information

Opera in five acts and an epilogue

The main singing language is English, and additional languages are Finnish, Czech, French, Romanian, Swedish, German, Spanish and Greek

Libretto  Sofi Oksanen (original Finnish) & Aleksi Barrière (dramaturgy & multilingual version)

Musical direction  Elena Schwarz

Stage direction and dramaturgy  Simon Stone

Set design  Chloe Lamford

Costume design  Mel Page

Lighting design  James Farncombe

Choreography  Arco Renz

The Waitress (Tereza)  Jenny Carlstedt

The Mother-in-Law (Patricia)  Lenneke Ruiten

The Father-in-Law (Henrik)  Thomas Oliemans

The Bride (Stela)  Lilian Farahani

The Bridegroom (Tuomas)  Markus Nykänen

The Priest  Frederik Bergman

The Teacher  Lucy Shelton

Markéta (student 1)  Vilma Jää

Lily (student 2)  My Johansson

Iris (student 3)  Julie Hega

Anton (student 4) Rowan Kievits

Jerónimo (student 5)  Camilo Delgado Díaz

Alexia (student 6)  Olga Heikkilä

Chorus of Dutch National Opera

Chorus Master  Edward Ananian-Cooper

Residentie Orkest The Hague

Composition commission and co-production  by Dutch National Opera, Festival d’Aix-en-Provence, Royal Opera House (London), Finnish National Opera and Ballet (Helsinki) and San Francisco Opera

In collaboration with The Metropolitan Opera (New York)

Online programme

Along with the printed programme book, we also offer online programme information for this performance. The online programme will take you behind the scenes with in-depth stories, articles, and interviews with the creators and cast.

5 reasons to look forward to Innocence

Innocence - trailer

Innocence set
Innocence scènebeeld

Operatic psychological thriller about the repercussions of a school shooting

Thomas Oliemans

Lilian Farahani and Thomas Oliemans about Innocence

Innocence - Behind the Scenes

Behind the Scenes bij Innocence
Wedding, restaurant and classroom where something is happening
Scenes Innocence - Dutch National Opera 23-24 | Photos: Marco Borggreve
Young people keep distance from each other
A wedding is celebrated at the bottom of the building
Elderly lady addresses younger on top of balcony
Bride's dress is repaired
Classroom upstairs, wedding downstairs
Upstairs the school shooting takes place, downstairs we see the wedding
The Priest - Frederik Bergman
Classroom where people seem to wait and see
A joyful scene in the classroom
The wedding couple in front of the school
3 students during the shooting
in de media

With Innocence, the opera has a contemporary masterpiece that will resonate in the ears and heart for a long time.

8 October

Everything comes together in the horribly beautiful 'Innocence': staging, score, word craftsmanship, the fine cast [...] In Kaija Saariaho's last opera, throbbing pain trembles next to fragile beauty - with crushing effect.

8 October

Innocence by Kaija Saariaho is beautiful, haunting and ultimately moving. [...] Innocence is an opera like no other, a masterpiece in every sense. [...] Heartbreaking

8 October
Thomas Oliemans in the foreground during rehearsal Innocence
Rehearsals Innocence - Dutch National Opera (2023) | Photos: Ben van Duin
Rehearsal Innocence
A fight between students - Rehearsal Innocence
The happy bride and groom with champagne and flowers
Contained anger students - rehearsal Innocence
An older woman addresses the youngsters - rehearsal Innocence
Residentie Orkest The Hague

Residentie Orkest The Hague

Residentie Orkest The Hague was founded over a century ago and is one of the major acclaimed symphony orchestras  in the Netherlands. The innovative orchestra, led by chief  conductor Anja Bihlmaier, plays at leading venues in the Netherlands and abroad. Recent productions at Dutch National Opera involving the Residentie Orkest are Nabucco, Denis & Katya and Blue. This season, the orchestra will  accompany the opera Innocence.


in de media

"This is a truly great opera for our troubled times ... What composer Kaija Saariaho, with her librettist Sof Oksanen and dramaturg Aleksi Barrière, has done in Innocence (premiered at Aix-en-Provence in 2021, now making its Covent Garden debut) is to create a searing and subtle story of grief and guilt"

19 April

"Saariaho’s work, powerful as it is, lacks that glimmer of a smile, those tears of laughter which heighten tragedy. As far as it goes, it offers thoughtful, disturbing rewards. This staging has no weak links."

22 April

Saariaho wrote insanely good music to accompany it, and gave a lead role to Vilma Jää, a Finnish folklore singer who as the late Markéta deploys her voice sharply, high and precisely, sending shivers down the spine.

9 July

"Innocence is yet another contemporary opera that shows every minute how alive the genre is, and how opera, in particular, can put (current) themes under an emotional magnifying glass."

5 July

Right from the opening beats, you can feel the dark, growling tension. ... Yet thanks to her good focus, her [Farahani] voice carries just fine and we hear every detail of her performance. ... In Amsterdam, she [Farahani] will repeat the role of The Bride in the coming season at Dutch National Opera, but I hope to see and hear her in larger roles as well because she is a singer who has a lot of beauty to offer. 

19 April

Nominee of the FEDORA Opera Prize 2021 with the support of Generali & Co-funded by the Creative Europe Programme of the European Union