Monday, December 26, 2016

L'Amour de Loin HD Broadcast

Composer Kaija Saariaho and Librettist Amin Maalouf
July, 2008 Adriana Mater symposium, Santa Fe
Photo by Lisa Hirsch

I couldn't go to the live HD broadcast of Kaija Saariaho and Amin Maalouf's L'Amour de Loin (Love from Afar) because I taught a self-defense class starting at noon that Saturday. I made it to the encore.

It's an amazingly beautiful score, and an opera in which almost nothing happens. Jaufré Rudel falls in love with his image of Clémence, Countess of Tripoli; the Pilgrim wanders between the two. Eventually, he takes ship and dies in Clémence's arms.

It is a seamless score, and in its way almost as static as the libretto. There is some musical drama, mostly toward the end. Or at least, after the intermission. I was shocked to see in the synopsis that there are five short acts. I like the entire score and really loved the sections where Saariaho is riffing on medieval musical styles. She does that brilliantly, with Spanish-Moorish motifs working their way into the score. Static or not, it is gorgeous and must sound even better in the theater.

Robert Lepage's set works much better than I would have thought, even on the broadcast. It looked good and I think it must have been more beautiful in person, without the camera and digitization intervening. But Lepage has to have a gimmick or two, and in this production, he has the strings of LED lights and the gantry from which Jaufré and Clémence sing.

Saariaho and Robert Lepage during rehearsals.
Jonathan Tichler / Metropolitan Opera
This photo amuses me a great deal, for some reason.

I think that what he wants out of his sets is to have the singers constrained as much as possible so that he does not really have to think about blocking and what might make sense. That works better in this than in the Ring. Still, the moving gantry is something of a distraction; other production of this opera have solved the problem differently. Peter Sellars's production for the Finnish National Opera put the leads in a pair of handsome towers, for example.

Tamara Mumford as the Pilgrim and Susanna Phillips as Clémence in Kaija Saariaho's L'Amour de Loin. Photo by Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera.
That's the gantry. The ends go up and down, and it swivels, and it moves around the stage.

The fake birds and the fake Clémence diving into the waves looked laughable on the broadcast. Maybe they looked better in the house.

The singing was at least solid throughout, though I must say that I found Eric Owens uninteresting without being able to say just why. His French is not great and he seems to have only one facial expression (tortured), which, because of the closeups, you got to see a lot of.

Eric Owens
Photo by Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera.
The sweater does look better at a distance.

On HD, that sweater under his jacket looked like something his grandmother sent him. Did nobody realize that? It was a poor costuming choice.

Tamara Mumford and the jacket.
Photo by Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera.

Tamara Mumford's Pelerin (Pilgrim) was beautifully sung and acted; she has a certain austerity of manner and face that suited the character well. She looked almost shockingly like Renee Falconetti in Carl Dreyer's great film The Passion of Joan. (I wish I could steal that jacket she was wearing - it's very beautiful and would look good on me.) 

I liked Susanna Philips's singing a great deal; it's a beautiful voice, although the very top of the part wasn't easy enough for her. I did not like her facial expressions, which seemed too knowing and sometimes too smirky, except at the end. She needed more innocence, or more transcendence, or something. Or maybe she needed fewer close-ups.

The end of the opera is a bit odd: I feel that Saariaho could have ended it in the long silence after Jaufré's death, right before the chorus starts singing, as well as after Clémence's long closing rant. In any event, the ending as it is feels very medieval indeed, with Clémence's dialog with God, her cursing and her acceptance.


Mary Jane Leach said...

Pretty much agree with you. I've never been able to like Owen's voice, and I really want to. It's a covered sound, but should be more clear and resonant (which his speaking voice is). And oh, that sweater - looks like he wanted to show Grannie his appreciation for knitting it for him.

Lisa Hirsch said...

It was as if he'd walked off the street too late to completely change into his costume.

Cameron Kelsall said...

Owens is a puzzling artist to me. The voice has never sounded easily produced to me, and I've always found it surprisingly small in house. He's never had a gift for languages (any of them) and he's not much of an actor. His role debut as Philip II in Philadelphia two years ago was among the most amateur professional performances I've ever seen/heard. I personally think he was done no favors by being persuaded to take on this role -- it needs a lyric baritone with impeccable French, not a Wagnerian -- but he didn't rise above the deficits in any noticeable way.

Interestingly, his cover (Michael Todd Simpson) went on for him on Christmas Eve. Would have liked to have heard that performance.

Lisa Hirsch said...

He has appeared a number of times at SFO and he was either miscast or unmemorable in all of them, include....Porgy:

Lodovico, in Otello
General Groves, Dr. Atomic
Don Fernando, Fidelio
King of Scotland, Ariodante (a singer of fioritura he is not)
Porgy, Porgy & Bess
Ramfis, Aida
Capellio, I Capuleti

I mean, I do not remember anything at all about his appearances in the Beethoven and Bellini...and I reviewed both of those operas.

Patrick J. Vaz said...

I have to say, on behalf of Owens, that he gave a recital at Cal Performances a few years ago and the first half was one of the most astonishing recitals I've heard: so deep, inward, and revelatory that it felt almost indecent to be listening in.