Kaija Saariaho's 'L'Amour De Loin' ('Love From Afar') to me is among the best contemporary operas, it has an imaginative and often emotionally powerful story, also very reflective, and a score that's clever(with subtle shades of Medieval and Troubadour melody, and a lot of emphasis on sound and colour) and hauntingly beautiful.
After the musically phenomenal but visually and dramatically near-disastrous 'Tristan Und Isolde' and the often musically impressive and well-performed but somewhat drab and unimaginative 'Don Giovanni', there was the intrigue and intrepidation as to how the Met's production of 'L'Amour De Loin' would fare. Luckily any worries very quickly evaporated. This (which also marks historical significance as only the second opera performed at the Met written by a female composer, the first way back in 1903, and marking only the fourth time a woman has taken the conductor's podium) is a triumph of a production, and sees the 11th season of the interesting 'The Metropolitan Opera HD Live' series hit its stride after a shaky start.
If nobody has seen the Finnish National Opera production available with Gerald Finley and Dawn Upshaw yet, it is very highly recommend and even more transfixing than this production, one of the very best productions of a contemporary opera seen and actually sees controversial director Peter Sellars on comparatively good behaviour.
Visually, the Met's production is very striking with a great mix of the bold and the delicately subtle. Some of it is ambitious, but none of it is heavy-handed and quite a lot of it is very dream-like. Loved how the sea and lights were like characters of their own. Robert Lepage's direction is not as grand in scale and full of technical ideas like with his Ring Cycle, and actually considering the nature of the work all the better for it. It's very atmospheric, and never gratuitous or static, with a harrowing and moving final scene.
Musically, the production is exceptional, with very sonorous and layered orchestral playing that embraces a wide range of colours and moods and a beautifully blended and involved chorus. All helped together by the very charismatic conducting of Susanna Malkki.
Eric Owens sings with touching tenderness and poignant poetry, and acts with great authority and vulnerability. Susanna Phillips has such an alluring radiance and sings like an angel, also portraying her role with great feeling. Tamara Mumford is a mellow and dignified Pilgrim.
In summary, a transfixing triumph from the Met. 10/10 Bethany Cox
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