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L’Amour de loin is based on La Vida breve, by the great twelfth-century troubador, Jaufré Rudel, Prince of Blaye. Tired of the superficiality of life enjoyed by young men of his rank, Jaufré dreams of an idealised and distant love. Contrary to his expectations, a Pilgrim arrived from the Christian Kingdom of Outre-Mer, claims that he knows of such a woman – Clémence, Countess of Tripoli. Jaufré becomes obsessed with her and decides to travel to meet her. Meanwhile, Clémence has heard of the devotion of this Prince from a faraway land. Initially suspicious, she soon is haunted by dreams of her distant lover. However Jaufré’s voyage is hard and by the time he arrives in Tripoli, he is gravely ill. The lovers meet and declare their passion just before Jaufré dies.
Kaija Saariaho’s first opera, L’amour de loin, was premiered in Salzburg in August 2000 and the same production was given at the Théâtre du Châtelet, Paris inNovember/December 2001, and in Santa Fe, summer 2002. Additional productions have been staged at Theater Bern, Switzerland and future performances will take place in Darmstadt, Germany (spring 2003) and at the Finnish National Opera in Helsinki (2004).
The libretto has been written by French-Lebanese author Amin Maalouf. Since 1976, Maalouf has been living in France, where he was editor of the “Jeune Afrique” magazine, travelling as a journalist to around sixty countries. In 1983, he began to be known as an author, with the success of novels such as Léon l’Africain and Samarkand. His book Le Rocher de Tanios from 1993 was awarded the Prix Goncourt.
The story of the opera L’amour de loin is based on “La Vida breve” of Jaufre Rudel, Prince of Blaye, one of the first great troubadours of the 12th century. His glowing passion for a woman from the East of whom he has only heard is the central theme of the libretto.
12th century, in Aquitaine, Tripolo and at sea
Jaufré Rudel, Prince of Blaye, has become weary of the pleasures of life led by the young people of his rank. He longs for a different love, faraway, a love which he has resigned himself never to be realised. His former companions, as a choir, reproach him with this change and laugh at him. They tell him that the woman he sings about does not exist. But a pilgrim, arrived from overseas, asserts that such a woman does indeed exist and that he has met her. From then on, Jaufré will think only of her.
Having returned to the Orient the Pilgrim meets the countess of Tripoli and confesses that in the Occident, a prince-troubadour extols her in his songs, calling her his “love from afar”. Offended at first, the lady begins to dream of this strange and faraway lover, but she also asks herself if she deserves such devotion.
First Scene – Back in Blaye, the Pilgrim meets Jaufré and avows to him that the lady now knows that he sings about her. This decides the troubadour to go to meet her.
Second Scene – Clémence, for her part, seems to prefer that their relationship remains distant. She does not want to live waiting, she does not want to suffer.
Gone to sea, Jaufré is impatient to meet his “love from afar”, but at the same time he dreads this meeting. He regrets having left on impulse, and his anguish is so strong that he falls ill, more and more ill as he approaches Tripoli. He arrives there dying…
When the ships berths, the Pilgrim hurries to inform the countess that Jaufré has arrived but that he is close to death and asks to see her. The troubadour is brought to the citadel of Tripoli unconscious, carried on a stretcher. In the presence of the woman of whom he has sung, he gradually recovers his senses. The two “Lovers from afar” then meet and the approaching tragedy compels them to act in haste. They confess their passion, hold and promise to love each other … When Jaufré dies in her arms, Clémence rebels against Heaven, and then, considering herself responsible for the tragedy, she decides to enter a convent. The last scene shows her in prayer, but her words are ambiguous and it is not clear to whom she is praying on her knees: her faraway God or her “Love from afar”.
For full information on the electronics please click here
Clémence, Comtesse de Tripoli- soprano
Le Pèlerin- mezzo-soprano
Jaufré Rudel- baritone
Prince de Blaye et Troubadoure-baritone
Hardware and software requirements for the electronic part of L'Amour de loin
- a Macintosh computer, at least a G4/400Mhz with Mac OS 9.0.4 or higher ( )
- a Multi track Audio Card, e.g. Korg 1212 I/O (or any other allowing ADAT + SPDIF, compatible with the Macintosh and usable with an ASIO driver) to play the soundfiles in multichannels diffusion
- a 8 octaves MIDI keyboard, e.g. Yamaha KX88 to trigger soundfiles on the Macintosh
- a simple USB MIDI interface to connect the keyboard to the Macintosh
- a digital mixing desk (preferably a Yamaha O2R with an ADAT card used as digital input from the sound card) used for amplification and diffusion
- a version of the Max-MSP software 3.6.2 or higher ( )
Full Scores Online
Saariaho's score is a beautiful thing, her ability to create diaphanous textures (every word of the sung text can be heard) matched by the alluring quality of her harmonic and orchestral worlds. The result is occasionally a little like hearing something as rich and exotic as Ravel's Shéhérazade in ultra-slow motion. In its harmonically super-saturated and orchestrally shimmering way, it is regularly quite lovely to hear. One or two revisitings of medieval songs by the original poet Jaufré are highlights of lyric and coloristic beauty.
George Hall, Opera News, 01/10/2009
English National Opera's season climax was a new staging of Kaija Saariaho's L'Amour de loin (Love From Afar), first seen in Salzburg in 2000. The prince-troubadour, Jaufre, idealises a far-off countess, Clemence, and travels to meet her only to die in her arms. The Tristan-like story, to a libretto by Amin Maalouf, ends with a religious transfiguration, the true "amour" being God.
With only three characters, the third a go-between, asexual Pilgrim (Faith Sherman), this is an evening of soliloquies and declamation, underpinned by Saariaho's finely textured, iridescent score which shimmers with arpeggiated harps and intricate, quarter-tone harmonies, lovingly shaped by the ENO's music director, Edward Gardner.
Fiona Maddocks, The Guardian, 12/07/2009
The orchestra shimmers, hovers and flutters, delicately coloured with medieval and oriental modes, and the vocal lines are lush and melismatic. It is often deeply lovely
Rupert Christiansen, The Telegraph, 06/07/2009
there’s a world of fluctuating emotions in Maalouf’s words and Saariaho’s dream-like score, with its Middle Eastern modes mixed with ethereal electronics, beautifully expressive vocal lines (often melding into speech), slow swirls of mushy, spectral harmonies, languid pedal-points, Debussy-like flute melismas and impressionistic orchestration, with tinkly bells often prominent....There’s a gentleness and mysterious beauty about the Finn’s music, sensitively captured by Edward Gardner and the ENO orchestra, which explains why L’Amour has had so many performances since its premiere in 2000.
Richard Morrison, The Times, 06/07/2009
L’Amour de loin occupies a theatrical world of its own, the key to which lies in finding a visual aesthetic as precisely textured and imaginatively coloured as Saariaho’s score.
Andrew Clark, Financial Times, 05/07/2009
The opera itself is a wonderful creation with a sweeping score by Kaija Saariaho, filled with sounds of the swelling sea and packed with haunting dissonance. The vocal writing does not seek to test the human voice to its limits like so much contemporary opera but instead serves to enhance the characters and emotions....An amazing production of a remarkable opera. A must see.
, The Teenage Theatre Critic, 04/07/2009
Saariaho has composed a shimmering, shifting soundworld that beautifully evokes the extremes of stylised love, but with enough cleverly placed detail to pick out character and situation to prevent the music from becoming a static, impressionistic wash of sound.
Peter Reed, www.classicalsource.com, 04/07/2009
L'Amour de loin has finally reached Finnish National Opera and the composer's native Finland. Great operas require librettos that yield to the musical imagination of the composer. Such works are rare indeed… There is little action in Maalouf's story, yet the emotional and spiritual concentration is immense. This is magnificently compatible with Saariaho's musical aesthetics.
The score was in the expert hands of Esa-Pekka Salonen, who has worked with Saariaho throughout their professional lives. The orchestra responded with astonishing finesse. Dawn Upshaw was at her very best both vocally and dramatically, and her long final monologue was the most sublime scene I have witnessed in contemporary opera. Gerald Finley gave an excellent performance. Monica Groop's performance was in accord with the general high quality of the production - which is saying a lot. L'Amour de loin promises much for opera of the third millennium.
Henry Bacon, Opera Magazine, 01/12/2004
At last, after a wait of four years, Finnish audiences were rewarded in September with a production at their National Opera of L'amour de loin by Kaija Saariaho. The ten performances in autumn 2004 were sold out well before the first night, and the composer received a standing ovation such as is seldom witnessed in Finland.
The Finnish premiere was one of the most impressive performances ever given at the FNO since it moved to its new opera house in 1993. The singing and acting were superb and matched to perfection the spotless purity of Saariaho's music. The demand for tickets and full houses prompted the FNO management to pencil in further performances for early spring 2006. In a way, L'amour de loin kills two birds with one stone in the FNO repertoire profile: while representing the finest of contemporary Finnish opera it is, thanks to its distinguished cast and widespread acclaim, as fine an operatic work as any on the international stage today.
Kimmo Korhonen, Finnish Music Quarterly, 01/12/2004
A Spell-Binding New Opera
Santa Fe – A shortish, small-scaled, luminously scored three-character opera appears well on its way to becoming one of the stand-out music dramas to emerge in recent memory, and the Danta Fe Opera reinforced its enterprising reputation by presenting its U.S. premiere on 27 July.
Kaija Saariaho’s “L’amour de loin” (“Love from Afar”) was introduced at the Salzburg Festival in 2000 and proceeded to Paris; each staging, including that at Santa Fe, was freshly designed – almost a necessity, given the individual characteristics of the venues, starting with the shallow stage and rock-hewn back wall of Salzburg’s Felsenreitschule and the wide-open rear of the Santa Fe’s open-air house. But the production team of director Peter Sellars and designer George Tsypen has remained the same, and the soprano Dawn Upshaw, for whom Saariaho has long had a special regard, continues in the role of one of the “distant lovers” which she created, and which was created for her. She was joined this time by baritone Gerald Finley and mezzo-soprano Monica Groop – all three singing superbly and digging deep into the emotional core of their respective characters. The opera, conducted here by Robert Spano, was the hit of the Salzburg Festival and certainly the high point of Santa Fe. …
To an orchestra that includes electronic components so subtly interlaced with conventional instruments that one is never quite aware of which is which, Saariaho has created extended vocal lines – lengthy solos that sweep and soar, dip into sadness or rise to anguish and urgency. They are at the same time coherent and unpredictable, and occasionally – as when Monica Groop as the Pilgrim sings one of Jaufré’s songs to Clémence – they are quite florid, with a hint of 12t-century modal outline. A chorus divided into men and women flanks the stage – half addressing Jaufré, half Clémence – and reproaches, edvices, chants, or breathes a single held note. The orchestra ranges from the translucent to the shattering, and never intrudes unduly while the characters are singing. ...
Shirley Fleming, MusicalAmerica.com, 31/07/2002
The main event was the American premiere of Ms. Saariaho's first opera, "L'Amour de Loin" ("Love From Afar"), at the Santa Fe Opera on Saturday night, and the work lived up to its acclaim. The music is a marvelous fabric, full of nervous energy yet glacial in its movement. Planes and points of sustained sound are adorned with lyrical effusions, wisps of melody, flourishes and "spins," as Ms. Saariaho calls certain circular figures.
The libretto, by the Lebanese writer Amin Maalouf, elaborates on the legend of Jaufré Rudel, a 12th-century French prince and troubadour. Having heard from a pilgrim about Clémence, a noble-hearted countess of Tripoli transplanted from France, Jaufré becomes obsessed with her, sight unseen. The Pilgrim shuttles back and forth, telling one of the other, until Jaufré travels to Tripoli himself, only to die in Clémence's arms. Clémence, after a crisis of faith, resolves to enter a convent, thus nourishing her own love from afar.
In George Tsypin's scenic design, the stage is submerged in water, several inches deep, to represent the Mediterranean, with the Pilgrim's boat resting above and a spiraling modernistic tower on either side. Though it all seemed a bit claustrophobic on the company's smallish stage, the Pilgrim's first journey was enhanced immeasurably by the lack of a rear stage wall: the darkening cloudy sky proved the most striking feature of the set.
The work makes much of duality — sea and sky, home and exile, East and West — but duality of an irreducible kind that mirrors rather than complements. "Why is the sea blue?" runs one exchange. "Because it reflects the sky." "Why is the sky blue?" "Because it reflects the sea." Small wonder that the lovers can never unite. In the same way Ms. Saariaho's masterly orchestration seems more to mirror the sinuous vocal lines (and vice versa) than to accompany, support or interact. Using her background in electronic music as well as electronics themselves, she provides a sort of sound environment, and a luxuriant one.
That Dawn Upshaw made a compelling Clémence should hardly have been surprising, since the role was written with her voice qualities in mind: the earthy naturalness as well as the unearthly purity. Gerald Finley was strong as Jaufré, and Monica Groop brought a dark, elemental quality to the role of the Pilgrim. Yet it was she who got to flower in the work's closest approach to old-fashioned melody, relaying Jaufré's song to Clémence.
Peter Sellars's purposefully static direction incorporated gestures familiar from his stagings of Bach cantatas and other works, and they mostly worked well. James F. Robert Spano conducted with supreme assurance, drawing a performance from the orchestra that might have seemed beyond its capacity on the basis of its work in two other, more conventional operas.
James R. Oestreich, The New York Times, 30/07/2002
BEST NEW WORK OF THE YEAR Nothing is more important to the state of classical music than the introduction of a fine new work. I heard many this year, but the one that keeps coming back to me is Kaija Saariaho’s affecting opera “L’Amour de Loin,” which was given its premiere in a ravishing production by Peter Sellars at the Salzburg Festival in August. The novelist and poet Amin Maalouf provided the composer with the best libretto written in some time, a mystical tale, loosely based on history, of a 12th-century prince and troubadour who nurtures an idealized love for a beautiful countess from Tripoli of whom he has only heard. The work is not flawless. Ms. Saariaho misses the understated humor in Mr. Maalouf’s text. But her haunting and beautifully colored score, while nodding to Debussy and Messiaen, is deeply personal and utterly accomplished.
Anthony Tommasini, The New York Times, 31/12/2000
British critics who reported on the first half of the Salzburg Festival and then sloped off to Edinburgh (or Bayreuth) missed what was surely the best new opera of the year, L’amour de loin (Love form afar). …
Saariaho was supported by a libretto of considerable beauty by Lebanese writer Amin Maalouf, and by a dream production team: controversial director Peter Sellars was at his most elevated and serene, dedicated conductor Kent Nagano inspired the side-stage chorus and large orchestra with a flowing but meticulously precise beat, and inventive designer Geoge Typsin’s tower-like glass columns elegantly expressed the male and female impulses in life…
We’re in the 12th century and Saariaho hints marvellously at troubadour songs and modal harmonies with no trace of pastiche. …
… But then the troubadour resolves to put his love to the test and the final two acts - in which he voyages to Tripoli, falls ill and dies, prompting Clémence to sing a Liebestod worthy of Isolde – inspire in Saariaho a sustained vein of agonised lyricism that I found intensely moving. I wasn’t alone; there were standing ovations at every performance. ‘Haunting and resonant … often transfixing and utterly distinguished’ was the New York Times’s verdict. Not since Madam Butterfly has there been such a touching depiction of a woman’s ecstasy and grief.
Humphrey Burton, BBC Music Magazine, 01/12/2000
The five acts of L’amour de loin take two hours, without interval. Much shorter than Messiaen’s Saint Francois d’Assie, a few years back! – also produced by Sellars, conducted by Kent Nagano and with Dawn Upshaw in a leading role; that was the inspiration for Saariaho’s piece. The role of Clemence is perfectly conceived for Upshaw’s naturally radiant soprano.
Another American, the baritone Dwayne Croft, matches her eloquently as Jaufre. The Pilgrim is the Czech mezzo Dagmar Peckova, sonorously tender and concerned. Their voices float melodiously upon the teeming waves of orchestral and electronic sound, in which memorable phrases surface and plunge again. L’amour de loin is a strange idyll in suspended time: not, certainly, a repertoire piece, but a rare and rather magical experience.
David Murray, Financial Times, 25/08/2000
The orchestra, with electronic elements blended so subtly within its texture that one is hardly aware of them, has great luminosity and at times – particularly during instrumental interludes – can be massively rugged, with its solidity punctured by bright pinpricks of piccolo or oboe. The writing is highly considerate of the voices and drops to modes levels when the singers hold the stage.
Shirley Fleming, Musicalamerica.com, 21/08/2000
a haunting and resonant work …Mr Maalouf’s words invite music, and Ms Saariaho has provided a lushly beautiful score, structured in five continuous acts lasting two hours. Best known for her explorations of sound, Ms Saariaho continues in that vein here with music that combines vivid orchestration, the subtle use of electronic instruments and imaginative, sometimes unearthly writing for chorus, which sings from the side of the stage, The vocal writing is by turns elegiac and conversational. Her harmonic language is tonally grounded with frequent use of sustained low pedal tones, but not tonal. Bits of dissonance, piecing overtones and gently jarring electronic sounds spike the undulant harmonies, but subtly that the overall aural impression is of beguiling consonance.
Anthony Tommasini, The New York Times, 17/08/2000
Simply unadorned and crystal-clear – Kaija Saariaho’s Love From Afar is modern opera at its most beautiful. A new page was begun in the history of Finnish opera with the world premiere of Kaija Saariaho’s first opera, L’amour de loin, at the prestigious Salzburg Festival on 15 August 2000….
Musically one of the most impressive moments in the whole opera is the death of the Prince, exhausted by his long voyage and illness: the music slowly dies like the flame of life sinking into silence. An Arnold Schönberg-style choir sets up a heart-rendering lament of an impact second to none.
Love from Afar is quite simply a beautiful opera.
Liisamaija Hautsalo, Finnish Music Quarterly, 03/04/2000