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L'amour De Loin: Finnish National Opera (Sallonen) [DVD] [2005] [NTSC]

3.5 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Format: Classical, Colour, DTS Surround Sound, Dolby, NTSC
  • Language: French
  • Subtitles: English, French, German, Spanish
  • Region: Region 2 (This DVD may not be viewable outside Europe. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 16:9 - 1.78:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Classification: Exempt
  • Studio: Deutsche Grammophon
  • DVD Release Date: 15 Aug. 2005
  • Run Time: 156 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B0009K1ZI2
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 92,351 in DVD & Blu-ray (See Top 100 in DVD & Blu-ray)

Customer Reviews

3.5 out of 5 stars
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Performed for the first time approximately a century after the first performance of Pelleas and Melisande this fascinating opera by Kaija Saariaho has a very modern affinity to the Debussy.

The plot is of the simplest, Jaufre Rudel (Gerald Finley) Prince de Blaye and a troubadour lives in Aquitane in a castle represented by a towering metal spiral staircase on the left of the stage. Jaufre yearns for an impossibly perfect woman he can love at a distance, and learns from a pilgrim (Monica Groop) of Clemence, Countess of Tripoli (Dawn Upshaw) whose citadel is represented by a matching staircase on the right of the stage.

They communicate with each other via the Pilgrim sailing in a glass boat.

Uniquely the floor of the stage is one large trough containing about one inch of water on which the Pilgrim travels from Aquitance to Tripoli. The water provides wonderful rippling reflections, however this means Dawn Upshaw spends most of the final scene lying on her back in the water and is totally soaked. Also bizarrely Esa-Pekka the conductor acknowledges applause wearing wellington boots.

The good news is the opera is an overwhelming success and is superbly sung by the three characters, the music has a slow almost mesmerising quality that I loved, comprising beautiful orchestral textures. The final scene is so slow that according to the conductor when it ends everyone concerned feels an almost irresistible need to do something really vigorous, fortunately the applause meets this need, and also the singers vigorous hugging is very different from the usual demure line-up.

L'Amour de loin is an opera that is made for DVD as it requires numerous viewings, and also the drama gains immensely from the almost continuous close ups of the singers whose facial acting is superb.

L'Amour de loin is a modern masterpiece, and in this definitive performance should be acquired by all true opera lovers.
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Let's not beat about the bush. This is an opera in which practically nothing happens. In terms of action, the troubadour Rudel makes a sea voyage from Europe to Africa, gets ill on the way and dies almost as soon as he reaches his `distant love' and that's about it. And all of that happens in Acts 4 and 5. In musical terms, there is very little musical development of the few fragmentary themes, little in the way of obvious melody apart from what comes from Rudel himself in the 12th century and not that much rhythmic interest either.

And yet it can be a totally riveting piece.

It is the kaleidoscopic colours of the score that lie at the heart of the piece. Saariaho is a mistress of the orchestral palette, evoking deep rumblings, glittering flashes, turbulent storms and, at times, a heart-rending keening from both the vocal and instrumental lines. The vocal lines throughout, even if they lack some of the instant melodic memorability of some modern operas, also lack the seemingly arbitrary angularity of many others. They are almost always lyrical and, even when they lie high in the singers' registers, still fall happily on the voice. And the last scene of the opera, when the lovers finally meet and when, after Rudel's death, his `amour lointain' is left to sing her searing prayer (to God? to Eros? certainly to Love in all its guises) is an intensely moving liebstod - certainly as sung here by Dawn Upshaw.

With such a signal lack of action, any production has to work pretty hard to maintain the listener/viewer's concentration. This Peter Sellars production, taken from performances in the composer's native Finland, is certainly visually arresting.
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I was searching and wanting to buy the Salome DVD by Richard Strauss, and then this DVD title came up on my screen in a recommendation list. It was interesting to me because it is a new opera composed in year 2000, and this DVD was recorded in year 2005. But the things that made me bought this because of the 40% discount and it gets the 5 stars rate in amazon.com with seem-to-be-good reviews.

For me, it gives a little taste like the Tristan und Isolde by Wagner because it involves only 3 characters - Rudel, Clemence and Pilgrim - and it is also a love story. From the beginning to the end that lasts 140 minutes, there are only these 3 characters on a stage, although there is a chorus, they hide themselves up high on the hall giving a haunting and mysterious sound and effect which I think is very effective. The music, which some people have written that it is like Debussy's and Messiaen's, for me, it really sounds like Penderecki's music especially De Natura Sonoris No. 2 or Magnificat. Saariaho, the composer (:P I forgot to mention), does not really use a full orchestra when, and usually, the orchestra is used mainly to create the atmosphere like Debussy's Pelléas et Mélisande

The set and stage are quite interesting and beautiful, but also quite boring because there is nothing much, two spiral stairways and one boat. But because the story itself also does not have that much thing to say, mainly, it involves more to the poetry, it is quite effective that the stage does not have that much stuff.

Anyway, I found that this opera is one among the good ones with exceptional singers, a good production and good music. And also the price here is also reasonable. Pick it up!

DVD code 0 - 139 min + 17 min bonus (interview) - NTSC 16:9 - Sound format (sung in French): PCM Stereo, Dolby 5.1, DTS 5.1 - Subtitles: Fr, En, Gr, Sp
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: HASH(0x97151f54) out of 5 stars 15 reviews
42 of 45 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x97156ab0) out of 5 stars Hauntingly Beautiful Opera 10 Oct. 2005
By Grady Harp - Published on Amazon.com
Kaija Saariaho is rapidly becoming one of the more daring and creative of our current crop of contemporary composers. Hailing from Finland, she has good colleagues in this country who consistently provide audiences with the rare beauties of her compositions. One of her most ardent supporters is fellow composer and conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen who indeed conducts the performance of her opera "L'Amour de Loin", leading the Finnish National Opera and superb soloists Dawn Upshaw, Gerald Finley, and Monica Groop. The bizarre aspect of this release is that the DVD of the opera was released before the CD of simply the music. One viewing will explain that choice.

The opera is based on a 12th Century tale of love as filtered through the experiences and musings and dreamings and illusions of a countess, a troubadour and a wandering pilgrim. The staging is simple, built around a tower from where the object of love is seen and sees and the characters weave in and out of this simplicity of stage design created by the inimitable Peter Sellars by means of fascinating lighting schemes. There is no 'big story', just 'reflections on love from afar' as the new fairly frequently performed excerpts are called.

Gerald Finley is a brilliant and handsome baritone who not only has a voice of great beauty and clarity but one who is a committed actor as well (he is currently premiering the lead role of Robert Oppenheimer in John Adams' new opera 'Dr. Atomic' with the San Francisco Opera). He is magnificent to hear and to see. Dawn Upshaw and Monica Group take the women's roles and while everyone is aware of the quality of emersion in new work that accompanies the mention of Upshaw's name, Monica Groop prove herself to be in the same echelon. This gorgeous music, perfectly sung and acted, masterfully conducted by Salonen, and the DVD is of the highest quality. While it is a gift to be introduced to Saariaho's fine opera via DVD, it will be good to have the recording of the music alone to grow into what seems to merit entry into the standard repertoire. Highly Recommended. Grady Harp, October 05
21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x97156edc) out of 5 stars Mesmerizing is the right word. 19 Sept. 2005
By contemporaryoperalover - Published on Amazon.com
I, too, was mesmerized by this disc--not just the music, which is indeed hypnotic in that Debussy-to-Messiaen strain, but the entire production fascinated me. Those ravishing images--the pilgrim's boat, Upshaw's final "apotheosis" (another right word) in that reflecting pool--say what you will about Peter Sellars and Mozart, or whoever long gone, but here in our troubled century, the vision is perfect. On the stength of this video, I am trying to plan a trip to Paris to see the premiere of Saariaho's next opera, Adriana Mater--also with a libretto by Malouf and staging by Sellars. This is definite proof that opera is still a viable medium.
27 of 32 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x970395b8) out of 5 stars A moving opera with a fantastic libretto, though Saariaho's music is uneven 19 Jan. 2006
By Christopher Culver - Published on Amazon.com
In the mid-1990s Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho became attracted to the poetry of Jaufre Rudel, the 12th-century troubadour and lord of Blaye who wrote striking poems of love to a woman far away whom he couldn't and, possibly, never even did meet. In "Lonh" for soprano and electronics (1996), she set one of his songs for Dawn Upshaw to sing, and then she wrote her first opera L'AMOUR DE LOIN ("Love from Afar") on the theme. This 2004 performance is by the Finnish National Opera. It's conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen, a long-time proponent of Saariaho's music, having known her since their days at school. This staging is directed by Peter Sellars, whose quirky stage design actually agrees with the composer's intentions this time (imagine that).

According to Rudel's unreliable biography, his love was for the Countess of Tripoli, whom he never saw but to whom he nonetheless pledged his eternal love. Amin Maalouf's libretto treats precisely this part of his life. In the first act, Rudel (a baritone, here Gerald Finley) in his castle reflects how he's stuck in a rut, no longer able to show daring skill with women and make other men jealous. A pilgrim comes and tells him of a woman he saw on the other side of the sea, who is everything Rudel says he desires. The troubadour decides to desire only her, and yet he knows he cannot even see her. The pilgrim is an androgynous persona, treated as male but sung by a woman (a mezzo-soprano, here Monica Groop). This pilgrim moves back and forth across the sea, speaking individually to the Countess of Tripoli (a soprano, here Dawn Upshaw), and then Rudel again. Eventually, Rudel decides to travel with the pilgrim to Tripoli, meeting his destiny in a tragic ending. Maalouf is a fantastic librettist, I can think of few scenes in opera as moving as the duet between Rudel and the Countess in Act IV. And although there are only three characters (and an unseen chorus representing the young men of Blaye and the young women of Tripoli), there is never that there's not enough going on; dramatic tension stays high throughout.

Saariaho's music is quite systematic. The part of Rudel is subtle, full of small steps. The soprano is characterized by wide leaps on a diatonic scale. Strikingly, the song of the pilgrim changes based on who she is addressing, reflecting her role as intermediary. The orchestral music is concerned mainly with timbre, with occasional flashes of vibrant colour as in Messiaen or Debussy. The unseen chorus, consisting as it does of kinsmen and kinswomen who try to bring Rudel and the Countess to their senses, are accompanied by music of disruption: percussion blasts, pizzicato. The music is generally impressive, but some portions prevent me from giving this opera a five-star rating. After the middle of the 1990s, Saariaho's writing changed noticeably, and she began to eschew electronics and write overt melodies, a turn for the worst compared to her masterpieces of the early '90s, such as "Amers", "Du cristal", and "Six Japanese Gardens". Most of the opera holds its own against this early great pieces, and electronics happily abound (many sounds realized at IRCAM). Yet certain moments are all too typical of what she is writing now. Take, for instance, the beginning of act IV, as the pilgrim is sitting in his ship. The music of the scene (written also as an individual piece, the first movement of her "Oltra Mar" for choir and orchestra), is trite and bombastic and like something of out a 1970s sci-fi soundtrack. Or the scene near the end where the people of Tripoli admonish the countess, music so banal and simplistic one would hardly suspect it the work of Saariaho.

I'm never one to review well the sound and video possibilities of DVDs, as I watch them on a laptop screen and listen with headphones, but this is no poor print and the sound seems impeccable. The DVD contains a "bonus" of three interviews, with Saariaho, Salonen, and Sellars. One regrets that there's no interview with Maalouf, who bears such a great part of the responsibility for this work.

In spite of some minor complaints, any fan of contemporary music, or even general opera (there's little of the "weird modernism" or "dissonance" that could frighten traditional listeners) should see this fascinating work. Among the operas of the last 30 years, L'AMOUR DE LOIN will certainly rank among the most universally accessible (it's certainly no Ligeti's "Le Grand Macabre").
22 of 27 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x97156f30) out of 5 stars An incredible ebb and flow of music 18 Sept. 2005
By Stefan - Published on Amazon.com
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I must admit, I was mesmerized by this piece. It runs around 2 hrs. and 15 mins. without a break, albeit I took one. The cast of 3 was superb and there is an intensity here that you rarely find in a new work. I takes awhile to get into the flow of the piece but then I just couldn't break away from it. The music is very listenable but will not be to everyone's liking, for sure. I would definitely recommend reading the info in the booklet before starting to watch it.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9715815c) out of 5 stars Why aren't more contemporary operas this good? 26 Dec. 2006
By Jeff Abell - Published on Amazon.com
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Kaija Saariaho has been making a stellar reputation for herself as a force in contemporary music (thanks in part to the advocacy of her old school chum Esa-Pekka Salonen). After years of swearing she'd never write something as old school as an opera, she produced "L'amour de Loin," which more or less translates as "The Distant Love." It's a curiously undramatic plot: a poet, bored with his life of endless partying, falls in love with a woman he's never met. A traveling pilgrim conveys his poems to the woman, and she falls in love with him, or more, the idea of him. In an attempt to meet his idealized love, the poet crosses the sea, and becomes ill. The two "lovers" meet for the first time, only to have the poet die. But what remarkably passionate music Saariaho invests in this play of ideas, and how exquisitely Dawn Upshaw, Gerald Finley and Monica Groop sing it; the off-stage choral writing is also remarkably powerful. Moreover, for all it's beauty and passion, this score never ever sounds like a 19th century pastiche. Brava to the composer for demonstrating that it is possible to write music that is emotionally compelling without having to revive the vocabulary of Romanticism. Bravo, too, to DGG for bringing out the work on DVD: Dawn Upshaw's final scene is one of the most stunning moments of lyric theater I've ever seen.
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