I am judging L’Amour de Loin exclusively and non-expertly from clips I am currently consuming on YouTube—including the above trailer from an incredibly striking, spare, psychotically pretty staging of the opera at the State Theater in Linz, Austria—but the first woman-composed opera to be staged at the Met since 1903 looks extremely tight.
The arrival of “L’Amour de Loin” in December at the Met, in a Robert Lepage production conducted by Susanna Malkki in her company debut and starring Susanna Phillips, Tamara Mumford and Eric Owens, will be the biggest in a series of Saariaho events across New York next season. In October, Esa-Pekka Salonen will lead the New York Philharmonic in her “Circle Map” at the Park Avenue Armory.
Coming 16 years after its premiere at the Salzburg Festival, “L’Amour de Loin” will be the first opera by a woman performed at the Met since 1903, when the company did “Der Wald” by Ethel M. Smyth. “It’s a shock,” Ms. Saariaho said of the gap in a telephone interview from Paris. “It just shows how slowly these things evolve. But they are evolving — in all fields and also in music.”
The opera is simple in plot—about a pilgrim who delivers obsessive thoughts of love between a troubadour in Aquitaine and a countess in Tripoli—and the Times review of L’Amour de Loin’s premiere at the Salzburg Film Festival in 2000 is glowing:
The Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho had never considered writing an opera until 1992, when she attended the director Peter Sellars’s production of Messiaen’s ‘’St. Francois d’Assise’’ here at the Salzburg Festival. She felt that she lacked a gift for music of narrative sweep, which she assumed opera demanded.
But Messiaen’s contemplative opera was different, an interior drama that traces the growth of grace in the conflicted saint’s soul. Transported by the work, Ms. Saariaho said, she thought to herself, ‘’If that is opera, then I can write one.’’
She has done so. [...] Whatever the reaction to this new opera over time, ‘’L’Amour de Loin,’’ the most important offering of this summer’s ambitious festival, is an often transfixing and utterly distinguished work. The ovations were prolonged and deserved.
Here’s another trailer, this time for a Norwegian staging from 2008:
Who wants to go??
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