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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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.

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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.

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2 thoughts on “L’Amour de Loin in HD

  1. I thought it was great but the people around me in the cinema were annoying. Somebody literally left after two minutes never to return. The ladies in front of me were criticizing and chuckling throughout. Once it was over somebody said out loud “that was terrible!”. Our local newspaper critic who goes to every performance said the clapping by the chorus was “silly”, I thought it effective the way it blended in with the music. I felt like I was surrounded by idiots. If you don’t like modern opera don’t go to a modern opera.

    Having never heard the opera before I seriously loved it. It’s almost certainly the best opera of the last 20 years. The women were brilliant especially the pilgrim. Jokingly I have been saying “ci-ta-del” to myself the way she pronounced it since yesterday. I noticed that in the rehearsal clips on the met website the pilgrim had a painted on moustache. Whoever made the call to get rid of it and make the pilgrim genderless was very smart. I was also glad they didnt go behind the scenes during the interval and ruin the magic. During the interview with the designer Gelb asked about the engineering and the designer smartly dodged the question, not wanting to give away any secrets.

    The directing was genius compared to Don Giovanni last time. The director seemes to have had no idea how to film the set the way it was layed out and the blocking of of the singers. He zoomed right in on the statue prop that comes to life, the shot revealed how cheap and silly the prop looks up close.

    L’Amour was certainly one of the best HD broadcasts I have seen.

    • The audience at the HD broadcasts is very old and very traditional and for the most part the Met panders to that. That’s why I don’t go very often! I agree with you about the quality of the work. I don’t know whether it’s the best opera of the last twenty years (Minotaur, Medea, Written on Skin?) but it’s right up there. This was my fourth time. I saw it twice at the COC and on the DVD recorded in Helsinki. I get more out of it each time which is probably the truest test of quality.

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