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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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VINE VOICEon 1 October 2009
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. The set simply consists of two shining metal spiral staircases, one to the left and one to the right of the stage, representing the castles in France and North Africa respectively. Between them and all round their feet is a large expanse of water (real water, that is), broken only by the shape of the Pilgrim's boat. This makes things pretty tough for the singers playing Rudel and Clemence. For the first 3 Acts they have to do all their singing and acting within the confines of their respective stairways which is both confining and limiting. Then, with freedom, comes a soaking - by the end of the piece, poor Dawn Upshaw is soaked to the skin. For all that, it has to be admitted that the stage pictures are very beautiful. This is a production at the opposite extreme from the recent one at the London Coliseum where all the floating and flying and supernumerary players for the principals just became distracting.

Having said that, the performances of the principals themselves on this DVD are excellent. Gerald Finley who plays the troubadour, Jaufre Rudel, has always shown himself a fine actor and a fine vocal actor, too, colouring his voice and shaping phrases to give them individuality, character and meaning. So it is here. Constricted as he is by the production to spiral staircase, Pilgim's boat and deathbed, he still engages our interest, involves us and finally moves us as he goes from adumbrating his ideal unattainable distant love to actually embracing her. Monica Groop makes the sometimes thankless role of the Pilgrim into a real person as she moves back and forth across the water between the French staircase and the African staircase. And, when she gets to sing Jaufre's songs to Clemence, she makes the most of the most immediately memorable and beautiful melodic lines.

Dawn Upshaw is simply stunning as Clemence, the amour lointain of Jaufre's imagination. As the focus of the opera gradually moves from Rudel to Clemence, so Upshaw takes hold of the work and its music (and of us, the audience) and makes of the final scene a totally harrowing and moving piece of theatre. Her great ambiguous final hymn to Eros, Thanatos, God, probably all three, is one of the great moments in theatre, captured here on DVD.

Despite my caveats about the production and even about the static nature of the drama and the music, this is an important opera of the new century (just) and on this DVD proves itself a compelling and ultimately an intellectually and emotionally stimulating piece of theatre.
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on 17 January 2016
I can think of nothing good to say about this piece. It was not good theatre or music and I was bored with it after 10 mins.
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on 16 December 2006
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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