Five Portraits of Women is a set of songs with large ensemble derived by Aulis Sallinen from arias from three of his operas: The Red Line, The King Goes Forth to France and Kullervo. Each draws a portrait of a woman compelled in her role by fate or a mission. The vocal lines differ only very slightly from their original counterparts in the operas but the revised orchestral accompaniment creates an extraordinary new soundscape as background to the arias, consisting as it does of a woodwind orchestra, four cellos, a harp and a piano. There is also a solo French horn which acts as a sort of masculine counterweight to the female vocalist.
Tuiskuaa lunta (It is still snowing) (from The Red Line) is the story of Riikka, waiting in her snowbound cabin for the arrival of a good, life-enhancing message. Carolinen häät (Caroline’s Wedding) (from The King Goes Forth to France) describes the deranged Caroline Tammatukka (Caroline with the Thick Mane) in a feverish hallucination involving the King, whose arrival she awaits. The King is in fact already married but Caroline believes that he has left France for their wedding. Minä odotan sinua, paimen (When we meet this evening) (from Kullervo) is the aria of the smith’s young wife, who waits impatiently for the arrival of Kullervo. Itkenkö minä sinua? (How can you ask if I’ll mourn you), from the same opera, describes the all-embracing love of a mother, which encourages yet overrules the scorn of others for the youth. On tämä silta tehty naisista (That’s the bridge that’s made of womankind) (from The King Goes Forth to France) is the song of Caroline Iloinen [The Nice Caroline] explaining the biological, eternal mission of woman as the bearer and birth-giver of life.
The libretto of the opera The King Goes Forth to France is written by Paavo Haavikko; the librettos of The Red Line and Kullervo are by the composer.
Five Portraits of Women was commissioned by the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra.