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.


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Ekstasis is a multi-media collaboration between Kaija Saariaho and Jean-Baptiste Barrière.  There are six pieces on the Blu-ray disk.  Three were written by Saariaho with the visual elements added later by her husband.  The Barrière works were conceived from the outset as multi-media pieces.

The three Saariaho pieces come first.  There’s Nocturne for solo violin which is the only piece that doesn’t include electronics.  It’s played by Allisa Neige Barrière and is a kind of meditation for extended violin techniques.  The video element is the violinist sort of semi superposed on a rippling pond.  It’s typical of all the visuals.  An image, often the player, is combined with another image, often, as here, of a landscape element.  The images merge and flicker in a sort of kaleidoscopic way.

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Only the Sound Remains

Only the Sound Remains is a chamber opera by Kaija Sariaho based on two Noh plays translated by Ernest Fenellosa and Ezra Pound.  The piece was premiered in Amsterdam in 2016 by Dutch National Opera, where it was recorded.  It’s a co-pro with Teatro Real, Finnish National Opera and the COC so Toronto audiences will likely get a look at it eventually.  Which is good because it’s really hard to figure out much of it from the video recording.  As he so often does, peter Sellars directs for both stage and camera and while I like his stage work here I find his video direction quite annoying, especially in the first piece.


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L’Amour de Loin in HD

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.


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The Hungarian-Finnish connection

Stephen HegedusThe last Songmasters concert of the season featured a selection of works that sorta kinda had a Finnish or Hungarian connection.  The first part of the prgram featured songs by Sibelius, all but one to Swedish texts, and piano pieces by Selim Palmgren, whose music sounds like a sort of cross between Debussy and Sibelius.  The songs were sung Stephen Hegedus with plenty of power and quite a bit of subtlety.  We had been told he was quite ill but one wouldn’t have known it.  Fine, delicate work at the piano by Robert Kortgaard.   Continue reading

Five operas from the last fifty years

BDDefinition-TheMinotaur-a-1080-600x337Lisa Hirsch asked on Twitter the other day for suggestions for the five most important operas written since 1965 (i.e. in the last fifty years).  It’s a really interesting question and I pinged off a quick, semi-considered response.  Thinking about it some more I think I would stick with my choices.  (Obviously I haven’t seen every eligible opera but it surprises me a bit how many I have seen live or on DVD).  So here are my picks:

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Shout out to Washington

Rihab Chaieb and Mireille Asselin

Rihab Chaieb and Mireille Asselin

In February I attended a brilliant lunchtime concert of vocal music by Kaija Saariaho sung by three singers from the COC Ensemble Studio.  I wasn’t the only one who was impressed.  The composer was so taken with the standard of performance that she has arranged for them to perform a slightly different selection of her works in Washington DC in February.

If you aren’t from Toronto or Montreal (or perhaps Paris, Lyon, Dublin or Belgrade) you probably haven’t heard much about Mireille Asselin, Rihab Chaieb or Jacqueline Woodley (except maybe on this blog) but you will!  Strongly recommended both for the music and the singers.

Good news!

Intermezzo reports that Harrison Birtwistle’s 1991 (revised 1994) opera Gawain is to be performed at the 2014 2013 Salzburg Festival.  I saw this when originally broadcast on TV in the UK and really want to see it again.  I’m hoping that there will be a DVD release as it’s unlikely(!) that I will make it to Salzburg.  I’m half surprised that it hasn’t been performed again or spread beyond Covent Garden (same is true of The Minotaur of course).  But only half surprised.  There seems to be a real reluctance currently to produce work that is seen as less “accessible”.  There are exceptions of course.  Saariaho seems to be quite fashionable for example but overall, and especially on this side of the Atlantic, the modernist tradition seems to have been firmly rejected.

Occasional round up

Some stuff that’s caught my eye recently  in the opera blogosphere

Image from the NY production of Émilie pinched from Lucy’s blog

Lucy reviews Kaija Saariaho’s new opera Émilie.

Rob has started a new blog focussed on Regie.

At nonpiudifori there’s a piece on how opera companies can attract teenagers written, shock horror, by a teenager.

The Earworm continues her daily series of posts, most of which are sometimes idiosyncratic but always interesting reviews of opera DVDs.

Von Heute auf Morgen continues to be a great source for news of musical shenanigans in Vienna and Salzburg.