Notes and Editorial Reviews
L'Amour de Loin is one of Kaija Saariaho's most impressive scores--powerful, evocative, and challenging. Even at its most modernist--and there is a preponderance of such, from the gripping Penderecki-style opening, to the terror-laden chords that return at critical moments, much in the manner of Poul Ruders' A Handmaid's Tale--the music remains accessible, and at times quite lyrical and impassioned. This is due largely to the basically tonal character of the vocal writing, as well as to Saariaho's interweaving elements of Debussy, Messiaen, and even French baroque.
The story takes place in 12th-century France, and essentially concerns Prince Jaufré of Blaye's romantic (borderline neurotic) obsession with
Clémence, Comtesse of Tripoli, an idealized woman whose existence he learns of from the Pilgrim. Jaufré sets sail with the Pilgrim to meet Clémence, who's passion has been ignited from afar by Jaufré's songs. Unfortunately, his delirious obsession makes him fatally ill, and just as he finds her, he dies, Tristan-like in her arms. Clémence then rages against God, and the opera ends with her lying motionless in the water.
Water is one of two main factors in this minimalist, Peter Sellars-directed production (the stage is literally covered with it). The other is darkness, with sparse lighting on the bare set, most prominently on the shimmering spiral staircase that Jaufré slithers up and down in wide-eyed confusion. Indeed, so much of the performers' characterizations depend on their extreme facial expressions--tellingly captured by camera close-ups (at one point we see Jaufré's anguished face through the bottom of a glass rowboat)--that it leads me to wonder how much of this impact was lost on the live audience sitting at the usual distance from the stage. In any event, all this posturing, along with Amin Maalouf's heavily symbolist French-language libretto, lends the whole enterprise a somewhat discomfiting air of pretension.
Nevertheless, Dawn Upshaw offers an impassioned portrayal of Clémence, singing radiantly throughout (despite being soaked at the end). Gerald Finley's rich, pointed tone suits the intense Jaufré, as does his hyper-emotional acting. Monica Groop succeeds in her trouser role as the stoic yet mysterious Pilgrim. Esa-Pekka Salonen (who appears in wet-boots at the curtain calls) conducts masterfully, leading the Finnish National Opera Orchestra and Chorus (which has a prominent role) in a powerful performance. The video quality is first rate, while the audio is up to DVD standards, with excellent bass response, an important element in Saariaho's subterranean-based score. All told, this is an effective and engaging presentation of this highly interesting new work. [11/29/2005]
--Victor Carr Jr, ClassicsToday.com Read less
Works on This Recording
L'amour de loin by Kaija Saariaho
Monica Groop (Mezzo Soprano),
Dawn Upshaw (Soprano),
Gerald Finley ()
Finnish National Opera Orchestra,
Finnish National Opera Chorus
Period: 20th Century
Written: 2000; Finland
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