Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho’s opera “L’Amour de Loin” (“Love From Afar”) premiered at the Salzburg Festival in 2000, where it was immediately recognized as an important new work for the opera community. Thursday finally marked the opera’s first performance in North America, at the prestigious Metropolitan Opera in New York.
“With this production, by the director Robert Lepage, the Met has also addressed a serious gap in its history: “L’Amour de Loin” is only the second opera composed by a woman to be presented by the company. The first was Ethel Smyth’s “Der Wald” in 1903,” writes The New York Times in its December 2 review.
Conductor Susanna Mälkki’s performance also caused a sensation.
“In addition, Thursday’s performance was the Met debut of the brilliant Finnish conductor Susanna Malkki, who becomes, amazingly, only the fourth woman to take the podium in the company’s history,” the paper writes, and goes on to encourage the Met to secure Mälkki as a conductor as often as it can.
In its review, the Wall Street Journal calls Saariaho’s opera “one of the most important new operas of our era” and both papers agree that it’s about time the work was performed at the Met.
With a libretto in French from Amin Maalouf, the opera tells the story of the 12th century troubadour Jaufré Rudel, who falls in love with a Mediterranean countess Clémence and woes her from afar via a pilgrim that travels between them both.
The Times says that Saariaho’s dreamlike, ruminative music brings the perfect qualities to telling the medieval tale.
Critic Anthony Tommasini also admires the risks the Helsinki-born composer takes.
“Sometimes, the orchestra recedes into what can seem like murky, hovering slowness,” he writes.