Ida Aalberg

Ida Aalberg (1857 - 1915)

Ida Aalberg was the first real star of the Finnish theater. She was born in Leppäkoski, Janakkala, in 1857. Ida was the second child of Antti Ahlberg, who was employed as a groom in Leppäkoski Manor, and his wife Charlotta Lindroos. In the 1850s, Antti Ahlberg was hired to build the railway from Helsinki to Hämeenlinna, and after his promotion to roadmaster, his family moved into a hut located by the railroad. 

Both the mother and the father of the family had learned to read and write at a comparatively old age, and it was important to them that their four sons were admitted into the lyceum in Hämeenlinna. Ida, however, was also hungry for knowledge and was in addition so strong-willed that a place in a school had to be found for her too. At that time, only daughters of upper-class families had a chance to go to school. Ida was admitted for a year into a Swedish-language elementary school, then for a couple of years into a Finnish-language girls' school, and finally she was allowed private tuition.

When Ida was 15 years old, secondary school graduates spending their Christmas holiday in Janakkala asked her to perform with them in a play they had put together. The performances held in Sipilä residence in Leppäkoski were a success. Inspired by that success, Ida ran away from home and made her way to Hämeenlinna when the Finnish Theater arrived into town on its tour. The founder of the theater, Kaarlo Bergbom, hired Ida as an actress when she turned 17.

During her first years in the Finnish Theater (1874-1877), Aalberg had several small roles in various plays and worked as an assistant in opera performances. In 1877, a role in a Hungarian play earned Aalberg the attention of her audience.

In 1878 and 1880 Aalberg studied acting in Dresden. Her studies paid off, for in 1879 she delivered two promising performances in Helsinki. In 1880 she continued her travels in Europe, journeying through Munich and Vienna to Budapest where she gained success. Aalberg made her big break in Helsinki in the Finnish Theater in the same year as she had a role as Nora in Henrik Ibsen's "Doll's House". Aalberg received special praise for her realistic acting that lacked heavy pathos.

Ida Aalberg established her place as a popular leading lady, and her skills as a comedienne as well as her ability to portrait tragic heroines were important to the repertoire of the National Theater that could be extended to include both classical works and the latest Finnish plays. Aalberg left the Finnish Theater already in 1883, but continued to perform there after the end of the 1880s, usually as a visiting actress after the theater became the Finnish National Theater. Her visits were always looked forward to in Helsinki.

Much of Aalberg's enthusiasm in her work was directed abroad. She made a study trip to Paris in 1883-1884, and during the next three years she often performed abroad. For example, in 1885 she was cast as Ophelia in Shakespeare's Hamlet in the Royal Theater of Stockholm and performed the part in Finnish. She also visited and performed in Norway and Copenhagen.

In 1887, at the age of 30, Aalberg married the lawyer Lauri Kivekäs. This lead people to hope that Aalberg would have spent more time in her home country. In 1890, however, Aalberg toured in Berlin. The marriage with Kivekäs ended when he passed away in 1893. At the same time, the style of the theater became increasingly realistic, and it was difficult for Aalberg to find her own place. Neither did she ever really make her big international break.

In Autumn 1893 Aalberg gathered a group of actors and actresses and together they  started a Finnish-language tour named after her. The next year, Aalberg married   Alexander Uexküll-Gyllenband who was a German-Russian baron living in St. Petersburg.

At the end of the decade, Aalberg did not perform for nearly three years due to an illness. She made her last long tours in the early 20th century. She received great reviews in, among other places, Riga, St. Petersburg and Moscow.

Aalberg took more and more interest in the Finnish theater scene. In 1909, she was named the assistant manager of the Finnish National Theater. She had no success as a director and therefore continued to perform as an actress. Her contract with the theater was cancelled which caused the cultural scandal of the time. In 1914, Aalberg celebrated her 40-year-old career. She died unexpectedly in 1915 during the negotiations about resuming her cooperation with the Finnish National Theater.

References: An article by Hanna Suutela at www.kansallisbiografia.fi and an article about the life of Ida Aalberg at www.janakkala.fi