L'Amour de loin

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L’Amour de loin (Love from Afar) is the first opera by the Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho from a five act French libretto by Amin Maalouf. The opera was given its world premiere performance on 15 August 2000 at the Salzburg Festival and its US premiere on 31 July 2002 at the Santa Fe Opera.

Saariaho, living in Paris since 1982, had become familiar in 1993 with La vida breve by one of the first great troubadours of the 12th century, Jaufré Rudel. Prior to that she had seen a Peter Sellars’ staging of Messiaen’s opera, Saint-François d'Assise at the 1992 Salzburg Festival, but did not think that she was capable of writing one. However, the production convinced her of the possibility of transforming the poem into an opera, given Sellars’ sensibility and talents: “If that is an opera, then I can write one" she is quoted as saying.[1]

The idea for an opera on this subject was to evolve over the following seven or eight years. After she was so taken by seeing the original manuscripts of the story of Jaufré (the love-struck young poet who wrote to a faraway lover in Tripoli, Lebanon), she set his poem to music as Lonh in 1996, a score for soprano and electronic instruments.

The sensibilities and backgrounds of both Amin Maalouf, a Lebanese-French author and journalist also living in Paris, and Saariaho – both voluntary exiles - brought them together to collaborate to turn “a seemingly simple story into a complex story very simply told. …..(And with) the straightforward trajectory of its plot, L’Amour de loin turns anxiously around deeper themes – obsession and devotion, reality and illusion, the loneliness of the artist, the need to belong”.[2]

Having secured an advance commitment from the Salzburg Festival to stage the opera, Saariaho set about writing L'Amour de loin in 1999. Gerard Mortier, intendant of the Salzburg Festival, was at the origin of this project which included the participation of the SWR Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden-Freiburg, an ensemble well known for its excellence in contemporary music.

L'Amour de loin received the Grawemeyer Award for Music Composition in 2003.

Performance history[edit]

The opera's first production became a joint commission by the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris and the Santa Fe Opera in addition to Salzburg. Peter Sellars directed the original production, as well as several later ones.

Additional productions were staged at Stadttheater Bern, Switzerland (December 2001 onward), in Darmstadt, Germany in the spring of 2003, and at the Finnish National Opera in Helsinki in 2004.

In 2005, Jan Latham-Koenig conducted two concert performances as part of the Al Bustan International Festival of Music and the Arts in Beirut.

In 2008, the Bergen International Festival in Bergen, Norway opened with a production by the artists Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset, produced by Bergen National Opera (previously Den Nye Opera). They created an animated film in place of a stage setting.[3][4]

The English National Opera presented a new production in July 2009 at the London Coliseum.

The Canadian Opera Company presented a co-production with English National Opera and Vlaamse Opera in February 2012.[5]

Roles[edit]

Role Voice type World Premiere
Salzburg Festival,
Salzburg,
15 August 2000
Cond:
Kent Nagano
American Premiere
Santa Fe Opera,
Santa Fe, New Mexico
27 July 2002
Cond: Robert Spano
Canadian Premiere
Canadian Opera Company,
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
2 February 2012
Cond: Johannes Debus
Jaufré Rudel, Prince of Blaye, and troubadour obsessed with idealized love Baritone Dwayne Croft Gerald Finley Russell Braun
The Pilgrim, the go-between who carries messages back and forth Mezzo soprano Dagmar Pecková Monica Groop Krisztina Szabó
Clémence, the Countess of Tripoli Soprano Dawn Upshaw Dawn Upshaw Erin Wall
Chorus
Stage Director Peter Sellars Peter Sellars Daniele Finzi Pasca
Scenic Designer George Tsypin George Tsypin Jean Rabasse
Costume Designer Martin Pakledinaz Martin Pakledinaz Kevin Pollard
Lighting Designer James F. Ingalls James F. Ingalls
Artistic Realization, Electronic Music Designer Gilbert Nouno Gilbert Nouno

Synopsis[edit]

Place: In Aquitaine, Tripoli, and at sea
Time: 12th century,

Act 1[edit]

Jaufré, having become weary of the pleasures of life, longs for a different love, one faraway, but realizes that it is unlikely that he will ever find her. The chorus, made up of his old companions, laugh at his dreams and tell him the woman he sings about does not exist. However, a Pilgrim, recently arrived from abroad, tells Jaufré that such a woman does indeed exist because he has met her. Jaufré then devotes himself to thinking only of her.

Act 2[edit]

The Pilgrim, having returned to Tripoli, meets Clémence and tells her that, in France, a prince-troubadour extols her in his songs, calling her his “love from afar”. Although this initially offends her, Clémence begins to dream of this strange and faraway lover, asking herself if she is worthy to receive such devotion.

Act 3[edit]

First Scene

Upon his return to Blaye, the Pilgrim again meets Jaufré and tells him that the lady now knows that he sings about her. Jaufré decides that he must now travel to meet her.

Second Scene

However, Clémence seems to prefer that their relationship remains distant since she is reluctant to live constantly waiting and does not want to suffer.

Act 4[edit]

On impulse, Jaufré sets out to meet his “love from afar”, but not without some trepidation. He anguishes that he has not made the right decision, so much so that he becomes severely ill, that sickness increasing the closer he gets to Tripoli. Finally, he arrives there, but he is dying.

Act 5[edit]

The ship berths and the Pilgrim hurries off to tell the countess that Jaufré has arrived, that he is close to death, and that he asks to see her. Carried on a stretcher, Jaufré is brought to the citadel unconscious, but in the presence of Clémence, he recovers somewhat. With Jaufré approaching death, the couple embrace and confess their love for each other. When he dies in her arms, Clémence rages against Heaven and considers herself responsible for the tragedy. She decides to enter a convent and the last scene shows her in prayer. However, her words are ambiguous: it is not clear to whom she is praying on her knees, to her faraway God or to her “Love from afar”.

Critical reactions[edit]

A haunting and resonant work...L'amour de loin, the most important offering of this summer's ambitious Salzburg Festival, is an often transfixing and utterly distinguished work. The ovations were prolonged and deserved. Though it was not intended as such, L'amour de loin provides a jolt of sanity amid the political conflicts that of late have been rattling the world, Austria in particular, over issues of nationality, immigration, the sanctity of borders, and the cultural gulf between the West and the East. Mr. Maalouf treats these themes in his effortlessly poetic text, one of the strongest librettos in some time. Idealized love is a well-worn theme, but Mr. Maalouf has found a fresh way to revisit it. Mr. Maalouf's words invite music, and Ms. Saariaho has provided a lushly beautiful score, structured in five continuous acts lasting two hours. Best known for her exploration of sound, Ms. Saariaho continues in the vein here with music that combines vivid orchestration, the subtle use of electronic instruments and imaginative, sometimes unearthly writing for chorus, which sings from the side of the stage. The vocal writing is by turns elegiac and conversational. Her harmonic language is tonally grounded, with frequent use of sustained low pedal tones, but not tonal. Bits of dissonance, piercing overtones and gently jarring electronic sound spike the undulant harmonies, but so subtly that the overall aural impression is of beguiling consonance. ...Her evocations of the troubadour songs, with medieval modal harmony and fragments of elegiac tunes, are marvelous.
Anthony Tommasini, The New York Times, 17 August 2000 (Salzburg premiere review)

L'Amour de loin received the 2003 Grawemeyer Award for Music Composition.

Recordings[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Anthony Tommasini, “A Prince Idealizes His Love From Afar”, New York Times, 17 August 2000
  2. ^ Philip Huscher, “The Land Where I Was Born”, Santa Fe Opera 2002 Festival program book
  3. ^ Bergen International Festival. "Berlin Enthusiasm for Festival Opera". Retrieved 8 March 2009. 
  4. ^ Königlich Norwegische Botschaft. "Elmgreen & Dragset auf neuem Terrain" (in German). Retrieved 8 March 2009. [dead link]
  5. ^ Canadian Opera Company. "Love from Afar". 
  6. ^ [1]

External links[edit]