La Passion de Simone
La Passion de Simone is an oratorio composed by Kaija Saariaho to a libretto in French by Amin Maalouf, first premiered in a staging by Peter Sellars. The work, subtitled "a musical journey in 15 stations", centers on the life and writings of Simone Weil and was conceived in the Passion Play tradition with episodes in her life linked to the Stations of the Cross. It is composed for SATB chorus, soprano soloist, spoken voice, orchestra and electronic instruments.
La Passion de Simone was commissioned jointly by the New Crowned Hope festival in Vienna, the Barbican Centre, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. It had its world premiere on November 26, 2006 at the Jugendstiltheater in Vienna as part of Peter Sellars' New Crowned Hope festival. The world premiere performers were the Klangforum Wien orchestra conducted by Susanna Mälkki; the Arnold Schoenberg Chor conducted by Erwin Ortner; Finnish soprano Pia Freund as the narrator; Michael Schumacher as the silent dancer (a directorial addition by Sellars), and Dominque Blanc as the voice of Simone Weil.
The work had its UK premiere at the Barbican Centre, London in July 2007 and its US premiere in August 2008 at the Lincoln Center, New York City as part of the Mostly Mozart Festival. Unlike previous performances, the French premiere at the Opéra Bastille in June 2009 was performed without Sellars' staging. Nevertheless, Dawn Upshaw, for whom the role of the narrator was originally written, performed in all three premieres.
Chamber version (2013)
The composer herself created a chamber version of the piece, equal in length and in which the vocal line of the soloist remains the same, along with the spoken text. The orchestration, on the other hand, was rewritten (without electronics) for 19 musicians instead of the full symphony orchestra, and the SATB chorus was replaced with four solo voices (one of each type).
This new version was premiered on November 14, 2013 at the P.O. Hviezdoslav City Theatre in Bratislava, in the framework of the Melos-Ethos Festival for Contemporary Music, in a production conceived and realized by the French music theatre company La Chambre aux échos. The main character was performed by soprano Karen Vourc'h, accompanied by a vocal quartet and an actress, and the chamber ensemble Secession Orchestra, conducted by Clément Mao-Takacs. The stage direction was devised by Aleksi Barrière.
- Clements, Andrew, "La Passion de Simone" (review of the UK premiere), The Guardian, July 12, 2007. Accessed 15 November 2008.
- Midgette, Anne, "An Earnest Meditation on a Life Devoted to Human Suffering" (review of the world premiere), New York Times, November 29, 2006. Accessed 15 November 2008.
- Saariaho, Kaija, Programme Notes for La Passion de Simone, Chester Novello music publishers. Accessed 14 November 2008.
- Tommasini, Anthony, "Contemplations on the Life of Simone Weil, in a Range of Somber Hues" (review of the US premiere), New York Times, August 14, 2008. Accessed 15 November 2008.