Commissioned by Finnish National Opera

Available in Finnish, English and German

  • 3(pic)3(ca)3(2bcl)3(cbn)/4331/timp.3perc/hp.elec kbd/str
  • mixed chorus
  • Alto, 4 Baritones, Bass, Mezzo Soprano, 2 Sopranos, 3 Tenors, Bass Baritone
  • 2 hr 25 min
  • by the composer derived from the epic play by Aleksis Kivi
  • English, Finnish, German

Programme Note


Kullervo, the son of Kalervo, is apparently orphaned when Unto sets Kalervo’s house on fire. Unto arranges for Kullervo to be apprenticed to a blacksmith as a herd-boy. Kullervo is provoked into murdering the blacksmith’s wife when the knife he inherited from his father breaks on a stone maliciously baked in his bread. Soon, a friend discovers that Kullervo’s parents are still alive, but the reunion goes awry when the parents realise that their son is a murderer. A blind singer appears in his dream with the grim tale of Kullervo’s seducing a woman, not knowing until afterwards that she is his long-lost sister. Kullervo realises there is no way out, but resolves to commit one final act of revenge by burning Unto’s house. He hopes to find comfort with his friend Kimmo, but when he finds that Kimmo has lost his mind, Kullervo plunges himself into the fire.


Act I

The Chorus describes the fratricide between Kalervo and Unto. The feud culminates in the destruction by Unto of Kalervo's house and his folk.

Scene 1

The arson he has committed preys upon Unto's mind. His wife reproaches him for having failed to kill Kalervo's son Kullervo.
Kullervo, with his childhood friend Kimmo, has been enslaved and is harboring revenge. His rage is directed at Kimmo, and he tries to kill his friend.
Unto's wife suspects that Kullervo is aware of the fact that Unto destroyed his father's house. She urges her husband to slay Kullervo, but instead Unto decides to sell the youth to the Smith as a herd-boy.

Scene 2

The Smith's young wife waits for Kullervo to return from guarding the cattle. A Hunter comes by and reveals that Kullervo has in fact destroyed the Smith's cattle. After returning, Kullervo quarrels violently with the Smith's wife and in the end kills her with the remnants of his father's old knife. (Its blade had broken when it had struck a stone that the woman had baked inside Kullervo's loaf of bread.)


Kimmo has discovered that Kalervo and his wife had miraculously survived the destruction of their house. Kimmo plans to reunite Kullervo with his parents.
While Kalervo relates his fortunes, his wife mourns her daughter Ainikki who has disappeared.

Scene 3

Kullervo, now a fugitive, unwittingly comes to his parents' house. They do not recognize each other at first, but the truth finally emerges once Kimmo has arrived. Because Kullervo reveals that he is a murderer, Kalervo wants to be rid of him. However, the mother demands that Kullervo should stay; she does not want to lose her son again. Kimmo, the messenger who came too late, feels responsible for what has happened.

Act II
Scene 4 (Kullervo's Dream)

Kullervo's rage, his humiliatingly unsuccessful affair with the Smith's young wife, and the fact that he does not get on with his father - all this erupts in a dream. In it he encounters The Blind Singer, who sings "The Song of a Sister's Ravishing". Kullervo's vanished sister Ainikki also appears in the dream.

Scene 5

Kalervo does not want to acknowledge Kullervo as his son. Kullervo retaliates by revealing that he has unwittingly slept with his own sister. It is now impossible for him to stay at home; and Kullervo decides to set off to exact revenge for all his evils by burning down Unto's house.

Scene 6

On his way to Unto's house Kullervo encounters Tiera and two strangers. The Hunter also joins them. Kimmo intercepts Kullervo and reports that his parents are dead. Kullervo is determined to exact his vengeance by killing all of Unto's people. This he proceeds to do. After the slaughter he sets out to seek Kimmo, in whom he sees a glimmer of hope and light.


Kullervo finds Kimmo at home, alone and insane. Kimmo is hurrying on his way toward the land of the fortunate, carrying an important message. He does not recognize Kullervo, but imagines him to be a Christ-like figure who carries the world's sins on his shoulders.
Kullervo bids farewell to his friend and takes his life by throwing himself into the fire.

© Aulis Sallinen


Sallinen, A.: Kullervo [Opera]


Act II



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