Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Amour de Loin - Saariaho at ENO

Well, I broadly agree with Ruper Christansen in The Telegraph:
If what you want from opera is the equivalent of a warm bath filled with scented bubbles...
as well as Andrew Clements in The Guardian:
... the evening remains desperately uninvolving.
With slightly more detail I'm best allied with Edward Seckerson in The Indie. He's prepared to recommend the show to the Classic FMers in the same way that Christiansen does - "If two hours in a floatation tank is your idea of heaven, then this is for you." - but does the piece the service of trying to actually get a grip on it too.

He has two interesting points. Firstly, one that eluded me, was that
"love from afar"... has some resonance with the internet generation... in endorsing the idea that distance (or anonymity) really does lend enchantment, promoting safety in fantasy.
This is the romance at the heart of the opera's appeal, exacerbated by the principals' inability to actually connect with one another, as each character is played in triplicate, dancers shadowing the singer. This act in itself has interesting potential and is terribly confused over the span of the opera. It just hadn't quite been sufficiently thought through.

The second is that of the nebulous spiritual - in fact, religious - gravitational pull of the text. With a pair of lovers drifting together on the basis of hearsay there is a lot of store put by fatalism, the idea of destiny. Rather weakly, Amin Maalouf's text all too easily slips into their assumption of some sort of divine scriptwriter who has decreed their union. This half-baked idea is taken up in Clémence's abject rant as the piece closes.

It's a great shame. There's an opera just waiting to burst forth from the third character, a sort of go-between for the lovers who is also a pilgrim; this character is never some sort of Olympian seer, removed from the (chaste) passion by piety but rather the all too human messenger-to-be-shot. I'm really sorry to say that this potential seems to emerge because of the weakness of the writing/staging than as the intention of the composers, something that is also apparent in Clémence's final peroration. It's just (buzz) words for Saariaho to wind sound around rather than something to pique the interest of the audience. It is not insignificant that during the curtain call the one production member so caught up in congratulating the (deserving) performers to the detriment of the patient audience was Maalouf.

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