Averse as I have become to the Met’s HD broadcasts the lure of Kaija Saariaho’s L’Amour de Loin in a new production by Robert Lepage proved too strong. I’m glad I went. In fact this was probably the best Live in HD broadcast that I’ve seen. Lepage’s production is magical and absolutely at one with the libretto and the score. It’s deceptive simplicity mirrors the same qualities in both. Basically we are face with bands of light (32000 LEDs) across the stage which change colour as required and provide an ethereal shimmering backdrop. The chorus, rarely more than their heads or hands or both, appear in tight ranks from among the lights. There’s a sort of swivelling gantry with a platform at each end that configures to be the various settings for Jaufré and Clémence and there is the Pilgrim and his/her boat. Simple, configurable, effective and very, very beautiful. Indeed, Lepage and his team at the top of their game.
As to the performances, the women were pretty much ideal. Susanna Phillips as Clémence looked gorgeous and produced a very beautiful sound especially in her upper register while still being able to produce a real sense of despair in the crucial last scene. Tamara Mumford managed the tricky part of the Pilgrim extremely well too. It’s a low lying mezzo role that sometimes drops to speech for half a phrase and then has some quite high notes thrown in too. Great singing and a very convincing characterisation. I wasn’t as convinced about Eric Owens as Jaufré. The role was conceived for a relatively high, lyric baritone. I’ve heard it sung by both Gerald Finley and Russell Braun. It’s not really the role for a guy who has sung Alberich at the Met and, personally I would no more cast Eric in this role than I would cast Russell as Alberich. That said he did pretty well but I did long for a more delicate sound in the fourth and fifth acts. Susanna Mälkki’s conducting was top notch, balancing the delicacy and raw power of the score very effectively.
Unfortunately nothing in life is perfect and Gary Halvorsson was directing the cameras. I thought, for him, he did a commendably restrained job for much of the time but then he got bitten by the close up monkey at just the wrong moment. The final scene of L’Amour de Loin is one of the best, I think, in all opera. Clémence pours out her grief and despair in a way that hints at, but never makes clear, to whom she is speaking. God, if she still believes in him? The dead Jaufré? The Cosmos? The point though is she is expressing all our grief, not just her own and here the production team had created a picture of transcendent beauty to help express that. I wanted to, needed to, wallow in it and bloody Halvorsson kept cutting to head shots of Susanna Phillips. I had to close my eyes it was that jarring. Other than that the interviews and stuff were less annoying than they can be.
So, all in all, very worthwhile and I would love to see this in the house. Sadly though, also a salutary reminder of why I rarely bother with Met broadcasts.