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This review is from: Saariaho: L'Amour De Loin (Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin/Nagano) GRAMMY AWARD WINNER 2011 (Audio CD)The text is essential to enjoying this first opera in five acts by Kaija Saariaho. Written by Lebanese/French author Armin Maalouf, it tells a tragic medieval tale using plain non-rhyming modern words (in French, English and German translations have been provided) which is quite easy to follow. It has none of the flowery language one might expect in such an ancient setting (the song of yearning for a distant love introduced in the second act is one exception) and is actually sung rather than screamed like in plenty of other modern operas. It is about opposites like East versus West, Sea versus Land, Male versus Female, wishing for something as opposed to actually realising it, love of Humans versus love of Gods.
The first three acts show a pilgrim figure (aptly described at one point as the "voice of reason") traveling back and forth between the two other characters dreaming of each other who only briefly meet once during the fourth act before being distanced again by death. Musically it is accompanied by this great wash of sounds (mostly strings, flutes, percussion, harp, piano) that continuously shimmer away, making up an atmosphere best described as darkly tranquil, often melancholic, occasionally suffocating even. Two choirs (one male, one female) play a substantial role too - sometimes they are part of the orchestral palette, at other times they sing part of the text to comment on events or whisper away in the background. The final two acts are the liveliest and most operatic but overall, even though the text tries hard to portray the emotions felt by the protagonists, it is quite difficult to become involved as such, for that the atmosphere conveyed by the music, although it possesses great beauty, is too rarefied and tranquil. In this sense the opera is like Debussy's Pelleas & Melisande, which is not dissimilar musically either. Although L'Amour de Loin has been enjoying a bit of a performance tradition both staged and in concert after having been completed in 2000, Saariaho has since seen fit to re-arrange parts of this work into a half-hour concert piece featuring just the two distant lovers. I feel her method might accordingly be better suited to composing song cycles rather than operas.
High marks to the Harmonia Mundi label for recording this work in studio conditions, a rare occurrence indeed these days with regards to opera recordings, especially for such a recent composition.
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