Magazine article The New Yorker

The Sound of Love

Magazine article The New Yorker

The Sound of Love

Article excerpt

The Sound of Love

Kaija Saariaho's compelling first opera is staged at the Met.

Susanna Phillips and Eric Owens take the leading roles in the Met premiere of "L'Amour de Loin."

The distinguished composer Kaija Saariaho, who is sixty-four, would not have seemed to be the type of musician who would excel in the world of opera. Finnish-born, but long a paragon of the Parisian institutional avant-garde, Saariaho writes music that, like that of many of her colleagues, is a rigorously scientific exploration of the inner life of sound. In many a Saariaho piece, an arresting sonic statement is presented at the start, big in impact but full of small voices that subtly fragment, bloom, or disappear. Listening to it can be a dazzling experience, though it is essentially a static one; the music lacks the narrative thrust that musical drama usually requires.

What sets her apart, however, is her gift for weaving elements of mysticism and sensuality into that essentially intellectual quest, in a manner that has been more expressively refined and emotionally restrained than that of Messiaen, a composer who nonetheless deeply influenced her. And in "L'Amour de Loin" ("Love from Afar"), Saariaho's acclaimed first opera, from 2000, which she wrote in collaboration with the librettist Amin Maalouf, she proved that her stylistic approach could work in splendid ways. The piece comes to the Metropolitan Opera on Dec. 1, the first opera written by a woman to be performed there in more than a century.

The story is inspired by a historical character, the nobleman Jaufre Rudel, a celebrated twelfth-century French troubadour. …

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