MET OPERA L'AMOUR DE LOIN
Production: Robert Lepage
Cast: Susanna Mälkki, Susanna Phillips as CLÉMENCE, Tamara Mumford as THE PILGRIM, Eric Ownes as JAUFRÉ RUDEL
Sung in French
One of the most highly praised operas of recent years, which had its premiere at the Salzburg Festival in 2000, Kaija Saariaho’s yearning medieval romance L’Amour de Loin (“Love From Afar”), has its Met premiere on December 1. The production is by Robert Lepage, co-produced with L’Opéra de Québec, where it premiered to acclaim last summer, in collaboration with Ex Machina. Susanna Mälkki leads the performances, which will star Susanna Phillips as Clémence, Eric Owens as Jaufré, and Tamara Mumford as the Pilgrim who carries messages of love between them. L’Amour de Loin is one of several Saariaho events taking place in New York this fall, including performances at the Park Avenue Armory with the New York Philharmonic; at the Juilliard School; and a residency by the composer at the Mannes School of Music.
Jaufré, having become weary of the pleasures of life, longs for a different love, one faraway, but realizes that it is unlikely that he will ever find her. The chorus, made up of his old companions, laugh at his dreams and tell him the woman he sings about does not exist. However, a Pilgrim (male but sung by a mezzo-soprano), recently arrived from abroad, tells Jaufré that such a woman does indeed exist because the Pilgrim has met her. Jaufré then devotes himself to thinking only of her.
The Pilgrim, having returned to Tripoli, meets Clémence and tells her that, in France, a prince-troubadour extols her in his songs, calling her his “love from afar”. Although this initially offends her, Clémence begins to dream of this strange and faraway lover, asking herself if she is worthy to receive such devotion.
Upon his return to Blaye, the Pilgrim again meets Jaufré and tells him that the lady now knows that he sings about her. Jaufré decides that he must now travel to meet her.
However, Clémence seems to prefer that their relationship remains distant since she is reluctant to live constantly waiting and does not want to suffer.
On impulse, Jaufré sets out to meet his “love from afar”, but not without some trepidation. He is anguished about the possibility that he has not made the right decision, so much so that he becomes severely ill, and the sickness increases as he gets closer to Tripoli. Finally, he arrives there, but he is dying.
The ship berths and the Pilgrim hurries off to tell the countess that Jaufré has arrived, that he is close to death, and that he asks to see her. Carried on a stretcher, Jaufré is brought to the citadel unconscious, but in the presence of Clémence, he recovers somewhat. With Jaufré approaching death, the couple embrace and confess their love for each other. When he dies in her arms, Clémence rages against Heaven and considers herself responsible for the tragedy. She decides to enter a convent and the last scene shows her in prayer. However, her words are ambiguous: it is not clear to whom she is praying on her knees, to her faraway God or to her “Love from afar”.