Cabaret on behalf of a multicultural Helsinki

What would it be like to hear live opera in a hair salon, supermarket or flea market? Soprano Reetta Ristimäki knows the answer – after all, she’s performed in all these places.

“Opera has the greatest impact when brought into people’s everyday lives,” she says.

Her life mission is to show that there is nothing elitist or scary about opera. This has prompted her to perform in dozens of kindergartens and schools – receiving ecstatic applause from children who have never heard anything like it before.


A princess by title – and an all-rounder in musical theatre 

During Ristimäki’s five-year spell with the Finnish National Opera, she had the title of princess and was tasked with creating concepts and ideas for pedagogical operas aimed at children and young people, as well as starring in the productions.

She now works as a freelancer, but enjoys her work as much as ever.

In her most recent project, she combines with the mimic Marc Gassot and the Bäckström Brothers to perform in opera, physical theatre and a clown show. “I’m interested in combining a highly expressive dramatic approach with musical virtuosity,” says Ristimäki.

Music has always been part of life for Ristimäki, who comes from Ostrobothnia. She began playing the violin at the age of five, expanding her repertoire later to the piano and guitar. She has also competed in women’s gymnastics, dabbled in jazz dance, and then thrown herself into full-time work as a music and drama professional.

Ristimäki has long been a central figure in Finnish music theatre. For example, with some colleagues she founded the musical theatre Kapsäkki in 2000 and led it for 12 years.

He has also been involved in a number of Finnish firsts in musical theatre and opera, such as ‘Ricky Rapper and Freezer Fran’, ‘Anna-Liisa’ and ‘Houdini – the Handcuff King’.

Little wonder that the Finnish Musicians’ Union awarded her a prize in recognition of her promotion of Finnish musical theatre and employment of musicians.

Cabaret with a message 

In the spring, Ristimäki intends to take a stand on topical, social debates, striding once a month onto the stage of the Restaurant Allotria as her alter ego, cabaret girl Greta Kreuzberg. “In Greta’s salon, you can enjoy the buzz of cultural discussion by experts and artists, as well as musical numbers by me and pianist Jukka Nykänen.” ”

The topic in January is the history of Helsinki, with writer Virpi Hämeen-Anttila and historian Samu Nyström participating in the discussion. “Among other things, we will discuss how the majority of Helsinki’s population was not made up of native Finns after Finland become independent. I want to remind people that there is no need to be frightened by refugees of so many nationalities coming here – strangers have always been among us and we have benefited from it.”

Ristimäki believes that the best thing about Helsinki is the ease with which you can realise your own ideas in the cultural sector and find open-minded collaborators.
The same applies to Finnish society as a whole.

When working as a teacher at the Tehtaankatu school in the 1990s, for ecological reasons Ristimäki decided to end the school’s use of two-decilitre plastic milk cartons.

“I visited the city’s Education Department to present my calculations on the amount of waste generated and how much the delivery network cost, and the cartons were gradually phased out.”


Text and picture: Venla Pystynen


Sinikka Nopola chose Reetta Ristimäki as a maker of the Helsinki of the future.