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Greatest ever live performances: Nightwish – The Phantom of the Opera, in Helsinki, October 2005

The first in this new series, a few weeks ago, was Lyrnyrd Skynyrd’s fantastic performance of ‘Free Bird’ in Oakland, California in 1977.

That was posted as a Weekend Intermission article in which we feature non-Nordic artists but for the second one we are staying very much in Nordic territory with band and venue, namely Nightwish’s blistering rendition of their take on the opening theme to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ at the Hartwell Arena in Helsinki, Finland in October 2005 and which was the final, homecoming performance of the band’s vast End of an Era world tour.

It turned out to be the end of an era in several ways, not least for founder member, singer and charismatic front woman Tarja Turunen, here sporting her matching yellow dress and microphone, who was unceremoniously dumped from the band about an hour after what you see here, accused of selfish and diva like behaviour not in keeping with the ethos of the band over a lengthy period of time.

It was an action which has split followers of Nightwish ever since. Turunen went on to a successful solo career of her own and was replaced within Nightwish by firstly the Swede Anette Olzon and then by Dutch lady Floor Jansen, who still occupies that spot.

I’ll leave the debacle at that juncture or I’ll be here all night weighing up the different standpoints on Turunen’s departure, one that led to another founder member considering suicide and immortalising his thoughts in the subsequent song ‘The Poet and the Pendulum’ and others.

Suffice to say that there was no better way for Turunen to say goodbye than with this performance as ‘Christine’, a major part of what is quite possibly in my opinion the finest live one by any rock band of any single song, ever.

The final part, in which Turunen reaches a series of very high notes followed by a rapid climb down the octave scale, is sensational. She is a trained opera singer after all but I wonder how many of her contemporaries at the Royal Opera House or La Scala could deliver that final guttural note in that manner? This one is unique in its intensity.

And to those operatic purists who from time to time go out of their way to find fault with Turunen in the most arcane way they can I say this. It’s a FREAKING ROCK SHOW guys.   

But it isn’t just her. Marco Hietala as ‘The Phantom’ absolutely nails the part. Together they are without doubt the most dynamic pairing in these roles ever and it is said that Andrew Lloyd Webber prefers this cover to any other of the hundreds that have been made since his original creation.

And the musical contribution isn’t half bad, is it?

Nightwish is currently on a self-imposed hiatus as far as live performances are concerned for reasons that aren’t wholly clear. Let’s hope it doesn’t become a permanent one. I stick with my conviction that they remain the #1 live band on the planet and I have consistently campaigned over the years for them to be featured as a headline act at Glastonbury, not to mention Coachella et al.

If Metallica can do it, then c’mon, man…

That might never happen if only because founder Tuomas Holopainen is, by all accounts, not enamoured with the prospect of performing at such mainstream events but if that is the case I hope he will reconsider his position while they are still capable of summoning up the immense energy needed to perform one of their shows to the max. There are too many legacy act strolling bones headlining at Glastonbury and it won’t be that long before they start to slow down themselves.

The band will release their 10th studio album in its 28-year history this year, the title of which is not yet known. A couple of days ago at the end of February they posted on social media that it is “now mixed and mastered,” with the comment “we made it again!”

Past comments have indicated that after the more experimental ninth album, ‘HVMAN. :||: NATVRE.’ (as stylised), which included an entire side consisting of often inspiring orchestral music with hardly any vocals,this one will see a return towards their rock roots.

While the release date isn’t known Nightwish doesn’t hang about once an album is complete. The previous one was released in April 2020, right at the start of the Covid pandemic when others feared to tread but when there was a captive audience sat at home twiddling its thumbs.

The previous album was also the last to feature bassist, vocalist and 20-year veteran Marco Hietala (‘The Phantom’ here), who departed for personal reasons in January 2021.

The other ‘casualty’ from this video apart from Turunen and Hietala is drummer Jukka Nevalainen, who was forced to take a back seat, eventually retiring officially from playing in 2019 due to medical reasons and who was replaced by current percussionist Kai Hahto, who had been his tutor.

Other musicians have been added along the way apart from Olzon and Jansen, including English multi-instrumentalist Troy Donockley and most recently bassist Jukka Koskinen. He replaced Hietala in that role but not vocally. Such duties now mainly lie with Floor Jansen but with a growing level of assistance from Donockley unless and until another male vocalist is located from within or outwith the band.

I said in the recent ‘Greatest Songs’ article about Emerson Lake & Palmer that those three may have been the singularly most talented musical trio in contemporary post-war music ever to play together.

In Nightwish’s case it is staggering how all the original band members, including the founding ones Holopainen, guitarist Emppu Vuorinen and Tarja Turunen, plus original bassist Sami Vänskä and Jukka Nevalainen were all born in or around the tiny community of Kitee (current population less than 10,000) in Eastern Finland, about 20km from the Russian border.

If ever there was a musical Xanadu, Eden, Shangri-la, Arcadia or whatever you want to call it, Kitee is it. The whole village should be one big blue plaque.

This is quite a new video, released officially by Nightwish only three years ago. There was (and still is) another version of lesser visual quality which had attracted many millions of views over many years.

It isn’t evident just why they chose to do that and there was some speculation at the time that it might be an attempt to build bridges with Tarja Turunen but that seems unlikely. The bridge building that has gone on, and over some years now, is individually between Turunen and Hietala, who have performed the Phantom together as a slower more formally operatic-style piece while during Nightwish’s last tour Floor Jansen sang it as a one-off (actually a ‘two-off’ as there were two shows) in Amsterdam with Dutch operatic star Henk Poort in another episode that has split the band’s followers into two camps.

Whatever ultimately happens to Nightwish, their story demands a musical in its own right.

Just a parting remark about how good this performance was. Watch for the reaction of the Goth girls when they realise what song it is and then when Turunen starts to sing. At 00:57 is one of them having an orgasm?

All rise! Kiitos!

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