Since its premiere in 2000, Saariaho's first opera has been widely performed, and won universal plaudits. It's a simple tale, based on the real-life troubadour prince Jaufré Rudel, who falls in love with the Countess of Tripoli without ever having met her. And it's simply told, with only those two characters and the Pilgrim who acts as a go between. Visually, it is stunningly austere. [...] The music is far from austere, though its passion is incredibly contained - Saariaho has acknowledged Messiaen's Saint François as an inspiration, and the restraint also goes back to Debussy's Pelléas et Mélisande. That doesn't mean that there's a lack of colour, as the orchestra, with discreetly integrated electronics, glows and sparkles. Finley as Jaufré has melodies which grow out of songs by the actual 12th-century troubadour - they're fascinatingly tinted by Arabic influences and have a tonal or modal feel. Saariaho wrote the part of the Countess for Upshaw - she has more widely-ranging melodies, sung with complete confidence and conviction [...]. With wonderfully clear and comprehensive sound, this is an incredibly beautiful and moving experience.
Martin Cotton, BBC Music Magazine, 10/1/2005
Kaija Saariaho's musical language has been gently modulating away from the modernism that marked it two decades ago. Now that subtlety of texture acquired in her early 'spectral' days is suffused with a lyrical warmth; together, they give her most recent music a striking richness of expression ... she has produced a vast orchestral score of extraordinary subtlety, with distant ancestry in Debussy's Pelléas et Mélisande. Peter Sellars' staging treats the action as a vast internalised, stylised ritual, underlined here by lots of close-angle camera shots of the principals, human emotions set in perspective by formal gesture.
Martin Anderson, Finnish Music Quarterly, 10/1/2005
Saariaho's shimmering Messiaen-like score holds it all together with hypnotic, ritualistic beauty, and the three singers are outstanding. Sellars's production is a spare, minimalistic affair that suits the abstract nature of the work, and it is captured with plenty of close-up detail.
Warwick Thompson, Classic FM Magazine, 11/1/2005
This is a wonderful DVD of a modern opera that speaks with great directness and power. Directed by an inspired Peter Sellars and featuring Dawn Upshaw, Kaija Saariaho's L'Amour de loin tells a powerful 12th-century story of love between two people who only meet just as one of them expires. Visually powerful and musically rich, it's a real treat.
DVD of the month
, The Gramophone, 11/1/2005
L'Amour de loin ('Love from Afar') enacts the legendary love of the 12th-century prince and troubadour Jaufré Rudel (about whose real life precious little is known) for Clémence, the Countess of Tripoli, whom he has never met but whom he voyages to meet, only to expire almost as soon as he and his beloved have declared their feelings for one another.
The symbolic resonances are immense, on the cultural as well as the psychological level. They are stronger for the fact that Amin Maalouf's libretto does not labour them but rather spins itself organically out of Jaufré's poetry. Perhaps it is the combination of male librettist (an exile from Lebanon) and female composer (Finnish-born but long resident in Paris) that helps make both poles of the seemingly improbable courtly love relationship so strikingly believable; that, plus the role of the Pilgrim go-between and the unseen chorus, acting variously as goad, comforter and conscience.
Saariaho has composed a staggeringly beautiful score, one whose overwhelming rich colours will come as no surprise to those who know her work but whose rhythmic and melodic directness may well. Its motion is predominantly slow and meditative but with considerable tension in the travelling scenes and, like Maalouf's texts, a wonderful way with elaborating on troubadour melos and blending electroacoustic and instrumental elements. Other pluses are George Typsin's striking minimalist designs and the directness and simplicity of Peter Sellars' direction. All three principal singers are consummate vocal actors, their performances simply beyond praise.
...this is a DVD to commend to anyone interested in contemporary opera, and it comes with short but worthwhile interviews with director, composer and conductor. Heard through hi-fi speakers, the recording does magnificent justice to Saariaho's sonic imagination.
DVD of the month
David Fanning, The Gramophone, 11/1/2005
Musically, the work has all the harmonic sensuousness familiar from Saariaho's music over the last decade: an idiom in which intricacy of texture is played down in favour of subtly shifting traslucency. This allows vocal lines to be carried with ease ... Provençal music of the period makes a discreet appearance, notably in the exuberant off-stage choral writing that represents Jaufré's companions, while Saariaho's vast experience with electronics is largely concentrated on the subtle intensification of atmosphere. There are many potent colouristic touches, and a stunning coup de théâtre in the chords that punctuate the fateful journey in Act 4, but the overall experience is an abstract and meditative one.
Vocally, there are few reservations. Dawn Upshaw has been pivotal in the composer's evolving vocal style, and has the clarity of line and purity of expression necessary for Clémence. Any sense that her role lacks a defined 'character' gradually diminishes as the opera proceeds, and is put paid to in the final tableau - as emotionally powerful yet ambiguous a 'farewell' as that of any modern opera ... there is no mistaking [Gerard Finley's] commitment, nor his sucess at projecting a vocal line that ingeniously intermingles Medieval and modern components: listen to his initial soliloquy or the tortured ecstacy he experiences during the sea voyage. Monica Groop's rich-toned and flexible mezzo gives the Pilgrim a seer-like authority, setting events in motion as if preordained from a higher source, yet with a warmth that makes her a very human go-between and one only too aware of her failings - witness her fraught confrontation for Jaufré. With his long experience of conducting Saariaho's music, Esa-Pekka Salonen is well able to realise the score's fastidiousness, while not neglecting its overall follow-through: something that he and the Finnish National Opera forces achieve with absolute assurance.
The production has transferred well to DVD - capturing the visual aspect with real clarity ... The set is effectively packaged, the booklet containing trilingual notes and synopses, while the disc features pertinent interviews with composer, conductor and director ... the opera proves an absorbing and often affecting experience, one which it is hard to imagine being done greater justice than in the present production.
Richard Whitehouse, International Record Review, 11/1/2005
”this fine recording will surely win the work more admirers. Authoritatively conducted by Kent Nagano, sumptuously played by the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester and rapturously sung by the three excellent soloists, the performance is one of irresistible shimmering beauty.”
Daily Telegraph, 25 July 2009
, Daily Telegraph, 7/25/2009
“Listening to this excellent recording from Berlin you get a very clear idea of the work’s sophistication”
Financial Times, 25/26 July 2009
, Financial Times, 7/25/2009
"Kaija Saariaho's first opera will surely become one of the emblematic works of the decade"
Independent, 31 July 2009, *****
, The Independent, 7/31/2009