Opera Prize 2021


01 / 11

Platform member

Festival d'Aix


Kaija Saariaho’s final opera INNOCENCE is a “thriller-opera” but also a story about recovery and healing that resonates with current concerns of humanity, dealing with how individuals, smaller groups and our society as a whole confront the past and tackle recent traumas over time.


It is a typical wedding for a cosmopolitan city, in present-day Finland. The fiancé is Finnish, the bride Romanian, and the mother-in-law French. But suddenly, during the wedding banquet, the Czech waitress feels ill… Ten years earlier, these characters were struck by a tragic event. Ghosts revive their memories of the trauma, there is a guilty haze, a lost innocence.

Kaija Saariaho’s new opera is the result of a collaboration with another Finnish artist, the novelist Sofi Oksanen, who is unrivalled in her ability to force today’s reality to confront the past, and with French-Finnish dramaturge and translator Aleksi Barrière, a specialist of new music theatre. INNOCENCE — their vast “multiplot opera” for soloists, choir and orchestra — is a contemporary tragedy, a large fresco of the human mind made radiant through its powerful music and the intermingling of words from nine different languages.  

With INNOCENCE, which required four years of work on the score with a lot of new musical elements that she never used until now, Kaija Saariaho signs her most complex opera. Based on a subject matter that she considers to be essential, not only personally but also more universally, her inspiration comes from a very specific internal that she has been carrying for years: “From a young age I have imagined the life of those mothers who see their children become marginal outsiders (…) in spite of the love and care they have been given. Imagining those feelings is one emotional source for this new opera. But more generally, INNOCENCE is a large fresco of the human mind.”

INNOCENCE is a large-scale opera for symphonic forces and an international wide-ranging cast. Music will be mastered by Finnish conductor Susanna Mälkki, the London Symphony Orchestra & the Estonian Philharmonic Choir. Finally, Australian stage director Simon Stone will magnify this opera with his own individual style while directing thirteen singers and/or actors to bring the opera to life!

With the world premiere of this “thriller-opera”, the Festival d’Aix and its 4 co-producers write a new page in the history of opera.

Artistic Team

INNOCENCE by Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho is the result of a three-way collaboration with renowned novelist Sofi Oksanen (original INNOCENCE libretto in Finnish) and dramaturge-translator Aleksi Barrière (development of the libretto into a multilingual text). Although the composition process started in 2016, the trio began elaborating the themes, plot and form of the opera together already in 2013, and in the following years collaborated closely on creating an integrated multilingual musical dramaturgy.

For her fourth and last opera, Kaija Saariaho chooses Finnish conductor Susanna Mälkki to bring this opera to life. Both women work together on a regular basis and Susanna Mälkki already conducted her last three operas. By her side, music will be mastered by the legendary London Symphony Orchestra (UK) and the distinguished Estonian Philharmonic Choir (Estonia).

On the staging side, Australian stage director Simon Stone will magnify this opera with his own individual style. To complete this challenge, he selected an international team that shares his artistic vision: British Stage Designer Chloe Lamford, Australian Costume Designer Mel Page and Germans Lighting Designer James Farncombe et Choreographer Arco Renz.

In addition to this creation team, three Finnish soloists – Tuomas Pursio, Markus Nykänen and Jukka Rasilainen – were selected to perform INNOCENCE by the side of Magdalena Kožená (Czech Republic), Sandrine Piau (France), Lilian Farahani (Netherlands/Iran) and Lucy Shelton (USA). Actors with vocal abilities are also part of the cast: Vilma Jää, Beate Mordal, Julie Hega, Simon Kluth, Camilo Delgado Díaz and Marina Dumont.

Kaija Saarihao

Kaija Saariaho


Sofi Oksanen

Sofi Oksanen


Susanna Mälkki

Susanna Mälkki


Simon Stone

Simon Stone

Stage Director

Chloe Lamford

Chloe Lamford

Set Designer

Mel Page

Mel Page

Costume Designer

James Farncombe

James Farncombe

Lighting Designer

Arco Renz

Arco Renz


Aleksi Barrière

Aleksi Barrière


Co-producing Partners

Royal Opera House

United Kingdom

San Francisco Opera

United States


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