The Passion of Simone

I’m rather suffering from “stream fatigue” right now but once in a while something really worth watching shows up.  I’d put Royal Swedish Opera’s recent performance of Kaija Saariaho’s oratorio La passion de Simone in that category.  It’s a 2006 work with a French libretto by Amin Maalouf dealing with the life and thought of philosopher, social activist and mystic Simone Weil.


It’s about an hour and twenty minutes and structured into fifteen sections representing the Stages of the Cross.  It’s scored for mezzo-soprano, spoken voice, full orchestra and electronics and it’s very typical Saariaho though maybe more in the mould of, say, L’Amour du Loin than From the Grammar of Dreams.  In other words it’s pretty accessible.  In fact it’s strikingly beautiful with much of the simmering, meditative quality of L’Amour du Loin coupled with a kind of driving energy in places.  The text works a narrative about Weil and her thought, sung by the wonderful Anne Sofie von Otter, with direct quotes from her works pre-recorded by Dominique Blanc and mixed into the electronic track.  It’s very moving.

The whole thing is performed in a socially distanced way which means the orchestra and chorus pretty much fill stage, pit and auditorium.  The one thing we are missing is that I think the electronics are supposed to surround the audience which is obviously an effect one doesn’t get in a stereo stream.  The orchestra and chorus are excellent and conductor Christian Karlsen does a fine job despite being miles from some of the musicians!  And there’s a little bonus.  The composer was there for the performance and she’s as gracious as ever.

The technical quality of the stream is first rate with no glitches and English and french subtitles are available.  You can catch it on Opera Vision’s Youube channel until July 16th.

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