The Fur Hat Opera

Men fishing for salmon at the Muurola weir, 1939. Image by Aatto Aho, courtesy of the Fish Library of Finland

A story of nature and people exploited

The Fur Hat Opera lays bare the workings of the state and power, and the fate of the little people and nature in it all. Setting the underlying tone of the work is the tragic decimation of the age-old salmon-fishing culture on the River Kemijoki. Driving the narrative are absurd turns in a political thriller and a tale of exploitation in post-war Lapland that rivals a Greek tragedy.

The opera brings to light a range of societal tensions: salmon-fishing farmers v. the state, urban v. rural, old ways v. blind belief in development, and nature v. economics. The Fur Hat Opera features themes such as civil disobedience, and its emotional core turns on the gulf in power between an influential leader and a vulnerable woman. These elements, combined with a new script and score, make the opera a musical production of exceptional interest to all audiences, local and international alike.

Creators’ quotes

Composing the music for the Fur Hat Opera has been a particularly engaging project for me given the issues it raises. What has made it nothing less than unique is how Sami, Erik and I have built up the narrative scene by scene. I have had more latitude than usual when it comes to placing text and making the most of its melodic potential. And the story does not leave the audience cold: the forthright criticism of how the environment is treated and how decisions are made is art doing what it should.

Tapio Tuomela, composer

In The Fur Hat Opera, the demise of the salmon-fishing culture along the River Kemijoki develops into an insightful, universal account of what might happen when an individual runs up against the state machine.  Politics in post-war Finland witnessed events whose nature no one wanted to see – and maybe still don’t – and which no one has ever acknowledged. The compensation claims of those who lost their livelihood – salmon – languished in the courts for 30 years, claims which welled up from the profound injustice and humiliation they suffered. When they had had enough, ‘a fur hat delegation’ gathered and headed for Helsinki to demand justice and moral rehabilitation. The opera’s solid basis in historical fact and its political timeliness make this unique theatrical production exceptionally interesting.

Erik Söderblom, director
The Petäjäskoski dam under construction in the 1950s. Image courtesy of Kemijoki Oy


After the Second World War, the Finnish state and the politicians in power made a special project of buying up and harnessing the rapids on the Kemijoki, replacing those lost with Karelia.

The story opens with a look at the fishing communities on the River Kemijoki that have spent decades trying to get compensation for the salmon lost to the dams. Finally, the men get together and decide to set out for Helsinki en masse to demand justice. Reino, a former salmon fisher, is too depressed to join the delegation. His wife, Eevi, peeved at her husband’s apathy, tells him he is so useless he should just walk out into the rapids. And this is what he does. But in the river Reino meets a water spirit – the last salmon perhaps? – who appears to him in the shape of a young woman, Piija.

At the railway station in Helsinki, Häyrynen, a reporter, tells the arrivals from Lapland what has happened to Reino. This stokes the rage of an already angry crowd to the limit.

In their meeting rooms, ministers sit worried what they should do about the delegation. Ministers Väyrynen, Taxell and Speaker of Parliament Virolainen have been summoned to the president’s palace. Kekkonen arrives. He gives them a dressing-down, calling them a bunch of cowards, and tells them to send the hicks back where they came from. Before Kekkonen has a chance to leave, Reino and Piija appear, slipping in via the underworld they live in. Everyone falls silent. Eelis, normally talkative, can hardly get a word out except to say “Reino, have you come back from the dead?”

”Does the President know the story”, Reino asks. ”Does he recognize Piija?” The President has to face the mistakes he has made over the years. Kekkonen breaks down and tells the ministers to agree to the delegation’s demands, ordering that a special law be enacted immediately.

The fur hat delegation returns to Lapland. Ultimately they get only a fraction of the compensation promised them. But they assure themselves that going to Helsinki was not a waste of time even though the politicians got most of what there was to be had. It wasn’t money they went there to get. Money could not replace the rapids and livelihood they lost forever. But they got respect, and that’s the most important thing – self-respect.

The Fur Hat Delegation from Lapland on the way to the Ministry of Justice in autumn 1979. Image by Heikki Rissanen, courtesy of the archives of Lapin Kansa

Creative team

Music: Tapio Tuomela
Libretto: Sami Parkkinen
Director: Erik Söderblom
Assistant director: Ina Hukki
Conductor: John Storgårds
Assistant conductor: Ruut Kiiski
Orchestra: Lapland Chamber Orchestra
Rehearsal pianist: Anna Laakso
Chorus: Kaari Ensemble
Choral director: Saara Aittakumpu
Video design: Heikki Huttu-Hiltunen and Otso Pakarinen
Lighting design: Jukka Huitila
Costumes: Silvia Jurvansuu & Anniliina Parkkinen (with Riina Kaarlela, Marika Yli-Sirniö and Karolina Aho)/ University of Lapland, degree programme in  Fashion, textile art and materials research. Student instructor: Johanna Oksanen.
Produced by: Kemijoen kulttuurituki ry (Kemijoki Cultural Association),  producers Olli Tiuraniemi and Jussi Merikanto, production assistant Ina Hukki.


Ville Rusanen: Reino, former salmon fisher
Mari Palo: Eevi, Reino’s wife
Hanna Rantala: Piija, Kekkonen’s sauna attendant
Juha Uusitalo: Kekkonen (president)

Hannu Niemelä: Eelis, leader of the fur hat delegation
Aki Alamikkotervo: Lasse, member of the delegation
Jouni Kokora: Jouko, member of the delegation
Nicholas Söderlund: Jaakko, member of the delegation

Lasse Penttinen: Häyrynen, reporter
Markus Nieminen: Väyrynen, minister
Tuomas Miettola: Virolainen, minister
Kaari Ensemble: Pate Hinkkanen

Poster: Jari Koski

Performances in Korundi House of Culture, Rovaniemi

September 1st at 7.00 pm
September 2nd at 7.00 pm
September 3rd at 2.00 pm
September 5th at 7.00 pm

Performances in Almi Hall, Helsinki

September 9th at 7.30 pm
September 10th at 2.00 pm

Duration: 1 h 40 min (not including the intermission)


Standard ticket € 40
Pensioner € 35
Student € 30