Jukka Linkola, Composer
The New World Premiere performances of the Pine Mountain Music Festival's new opera Rockland took place on July 15 and 17, 2011 at the Rozsa Center for Performing Arts on the campus of Michigan Technological University in Houghton, Michigan. Both performances were sold out, and audience reactions were very enthusiastic.
This opera is based on a long-forgotten incident in Rockland, Ontonagon County, in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, in 1906, when a group of striking Finnish copper miners were confronted by sheriff’s deputies. Shots were fired, and two Finnish miners were killed.
One of the miners, Alfred Laakso, wrote an account of the events, which his grandson, Andy Hill, read a few years ago and thought would make a good piece of musical theater. He discussed this with John Kiltinen, who saw possibilities for an opera.
John Kiltinen pitched the idea to Pine Mountain Music Festival, whose board liked it. In short order, John Kiltinen and his wife, Pauline, raised the money for the commissioning phase, partly from themselves and partly from the late Gloria Jackson, who had family roots in Nivala, Finland.
Jussi Tapola, a well-known stage director at Finnish National Opera, was hired as librettist, and Jukka Linkola, a renowned composer with several other operas and symphonic works to his credit, was given the job of composing the opera. It was completed in mid-2009.
The Nivala Festival (Jokilaaksojen Musiikkisäätiö)produced the Old World Premiere of "Rockland" in June 2011 production in Finland.
The Michigan production was supported by the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs and the National Endowment for the Arts; Finlandia Foundation National; Keweenaw National Historical Park Advisory Commission; The American-Scandinavian Foundation; Wisconsin Public Service Foundation; and Finn Spark, Inc.
In the Rockland logo, the pick symbolizes the mining profession of the protagonists, and generally the frontier life in which so many of the early settlers, our ancestors, struggled to survive and make a better life for their descendants.
The white rose is to provide contrast to the pick, as the opera includes a love interest. It also provides an interesting historical reference, as Alfred Laakso was a member of the White Rose Temperance Society in Rockland.
The thorns on the rose stem (the arm of the "R") symbolize that life could be hard, and difficulties could arise.
On Friday July 15, purchasers of the $125 premium tickets were invited to a reception with the composer at 6:00 PM in the Rozsa Center Art Gallery (downstairs from the lobby).
Following the Sunday July 17 performance, all attendees were invited to mingle in the lobby and to meet various descendents of Alfred Laakso, on whose first-hand account the opera is based, and to mingle with the artists. Light refreshments were served.
Rebroadcast of "Rockland" performance! The "Rockland" performance on Sunday, July 17, was web-streamed live, and was rebroadcast on Wednesday July 20, and Sunday July 24. Click here to view the web stream and for more information. These broadcasts had over 60,000 viewers in 28 countries.
The Story Line
To help promote the opera, Pine Mountain Music Festival worked with community artist Mary Wright on a project called "The Story Line." Schoolchildren and others in many communities in the Upper Peninsula were invited to write the story of an ancestor who worked hard and overcame adversity, like the people in the opera. These one-page stories were then transferred to dishtowel-sized pieces of fabric and hung from "clotheslines" as a way of honoring our ancestors and making young people aware of the history on which their lives are built. These displays appeared in various communities and ultimately around the Rozsa Center at the time of the opera’s premiere in July 2011.
To view photos of Rockland, visit our Facebook gallery.