With music by Kaija Saariaho and a libretto by Amin Maalouf, the opera L’Amour de loin (Love From Afar) is a tale of love and death, where the Christian West and the mystical East meet in a sea of desire and impossible dreams. Somewhere between a chivalric romance and an Eastern legend, this is the story of Jaufré Rudel, a troubadour and 12th-century prince from Blaye in France, and Clémence, the countess of Tripoli in Lebanon.
Jaufré Rudel, weary of life at court, learns from a pilgrim that his ideal love exists across the sea in the form of the countess, Clémence. Seduced by the pilgrim’s words and seized by the desire for a pure and faraway love, Jaufré leaves his shore and crosses the sea to seek his dream. Clémence, having been told by the pilgrim of a man who “sings of her in his songs”, waits for him, immersed in passion and new hope. Jaufré’s journey, filled with only angst and illness, leads the troubadour not toward love, but toward death. Only “love from afar” will be possible.
Kaija Saariaho’s music in L’Amour de loin is a vast soundscape where medieval melodies are incorporated in the composer’s spectral style. The piece seems almost in a rythmic suspension ; in reality it undergoes a very slow and continuous transformation.
In their new production of L’Amour de loin, Robert Lepage and Michael Curry have chosen to set the story and music in an imaginary maritime space. On stage, an array of luminous vertical lines create a stylised aquatic horizon which vibrates, sparkles and swells, evolving continuously with effects created by machinery, light, video and puppetry. This sea, like Saariaho’s music, serves both as the source and as the vessel of the lover’s passion; out of its depth emerge voices, and on its horizon floats an enigmatic pilgrim, who weaves together an illusory love.
Robert Lepage and Michael Curry break up this horizontal watery world with a vertical axis: a high structure, like an ivory tower, on which Jaufré, an aerial character, is perched and isolated. The vertical structure is able to move and pivot, and becomes a sort of weather vane of passion in motion. Later it acts as a floating bridge, carrying Clémence toward her beloved.
As if confused by the music and passion, the two poles—one aerial, one aquatic—oppose each other, reflect each other, and merge with each other in this production by Robert Lepage and Michael Curry.
Sybille Wilson, January 2015
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