Reviews for L’Amour de Loin at the Met!
The Metropolitan Opera opened Saariaho’s L’Amour de Loin (Love from Afar) in an historic production on December 1, 2016, marking the first time a work by a female composer had been produced at the Met since 1903. Conducted by Susanna Mälkki and starring Susanna Phillips, Eric Owens, and Tamara Mumford, the opera is receiving rave reviews on the music, singing, production design, and more from numerous publications. Highlights are below, follow the links to read the full reviews.
L’Amour de Loin runs at the Met until December 29th – and catch it in theater’s Saturday December 10th when the Met goes LIVE in HD, with following repeat performances in select theaters.
The mezzo-soprano Tamara Mumford brings mellow sound and calm dignity to the role of the pilgrim, a young man curious about far-off places, those lands with “oceans of sand” and “rivers of ash.” The pilgrim tends to sing in firm, declarative phrases. But the most beautiful episode of the opera may be the scene in which the pilgrim tells Clémence about Jaufré and tries to recall, as best he can remember, the odes the prince has written for his distant love. The music evokes medieval song in halting phrases, backed by plush choral refrains. Yet woodwinds hint at Arab reeds and exotic dances, music the pilgrim has encountered on his travels.
The soprano Susanna Phillips looks and sounds radiant as Clémence. At first, hearing about Jaufré’s adoration, Clémence is affronted and breaks into skittish lines that Ms. Phillips sings with miffed agitation. But soon she is entranced by the idea of the prince’s heightened form of love. At this point the opera exposes the folly, even the danger, of making idealized assumptions about the “other.”
(Anthony Tommasini, New York Times, Dec 2016)
In the original Peter Sellars production at the Salzburg Festival, which I saw adapted at the Santa Fe Opera in 2002, the lovers were corralled in towers on opposite sides of the stage; here, they perched on a rotating, seesawing staircase, which, though overly industrial-looking, allowed for more movement and variety. Mr. Lepage does best with big visual concepts, and human interactions were often awkwardly staged, but it was ingenious to have the chorus, which acts as both echo and occasional antagonist, as a shadowy presence upstage, with only their heads popping up above the waves.
Susanna Phillips, whose crystalline soprano also has heft and sheen, brought a fallible humanity to Clémence. Her Countess grew up before our eyes: at first an exile pining for her childhood, she discovered love and suffering at the same time, and her fury with God after Jaufré dies was vocally virtuosic and entirely convincing. Eric Owens brought a naked vulnerability to Jaufré, living his constant agitation and torment, but the role seemed high for his voice, which is more bass than baritone, and his hard work evoked effort rather than beauty. Mezzo Tamara Mumford brought a smoky, heartfelt eloquence to the androgynous Pilgrim, especially when she sang Jaufré’s song of love to Clémence. Kevin Adams’s lighting reinforced the mercurial atmosphere, and the electronic soundscape, woven seamlessly into the acoustical fabric, added to the magic and originality of this important event.
(Heidi Waleson, The Wall Street Journal, Dec 2016)
There are only three singers in the cast, so they do a lot of heavy lifting. Eric Owens was something of a cipher as Jaufré, singing, as always, earnestly and with vocal power but without really inhabiting the role or making much of it — a great talent who seems, these days, to be missing his marks. Susanna Phillips sang strongly in the luminous central role of Clémence, a woman who finds herself adored, shimmering in a silvery dress that picked up the colors of the lights around her. She pulled off a role that requires a singer to traverse the whole operatic emotional arc from daydream exultation to anguish when Jaufré dies in her arms without actually having much happen to her on stage.
The two figures are linked by an allegorical Pilgrim, a figure for whom pilgrimage seems to have become a state of being, continually going back and forth across the ocean, poling a boat through Lepage’s luminous sea: an archetypal go-between, an incorporation of the written or sung word, the things that replace actual consummation — and thus a representation of the opera itself. It’s the most dynamic role on stage, and Tamara Mumford sang beautifully, with a dark and shining tone.
(Anne Midgette, The Washington Post, Dec 2016)
The staging — directed by Robert Lepage, designed by Michael Curry and lit by Kevin Adams and Lionel Arnould — places the inaction on a shimmering-flickering rake made up of a zillion, much-publicised LED bulbs. These support a floating mechanical contraption conveniently equipped with stairs. It comes and goes on cue and, most of the time, houses the resident soprano. Everything looks slick and snazzy.
Despite theatrical vagaries, musical standards remained lofty. Susanna Mälkki, making her house debut, conducted with verve that never precluded accuracy. Eric Owens exuded strength and valour as the nobleman who loves, from a distance, both unwisely and unwell. Susanna Phillips simpered strongly and sweetly as his semi-ethereal idol. Tamara Mumford re-explained everything neatly as the overworked Pilgrim.
(Martin Bernheimer, Financial Times, Dec 2016)
The cumulative effect was powerfully seductive. Saariaho has an ear for voluptuous and compelling sounds and textures. The vocal lines above her static chords rock back and forth between an adapted plainchant for dialogue and modal and pentatonic writing for aria-like expressions. This was often beautiful in a way that reached into the body, especially as channelled through Mumford and Phillips.
Both women were superb. There was very little in the way of acting for them, as their roles were entirely in the voice. Each sang with a clear, luminous sound from the very first note, with precise diction and shapely phrasing. Each also captured a deep inner life—their singing was full of feeling, often achingly so, especially in the enthralling Act II tableau where the Pilgrim tells Clemence about Jaufré, and sings his poems, in some of the most beautiful music in all of opera.
The music for the women was far more objectively beautiful, but their performances were more than simply that. Mumford captured the Pilgrim’s mix of vicarious pleasure basking in the glow of love, and regret in pushing Jaufré to his end. Clemence expands as the opera adds facets to her character, it is her voice in the end that captures the insoluble mix of love and death. She resolves to accept no other man and to enter a nunnery, and Phillips sang ambivalently about God, offering prayers if he is “Lord … of love,” whom she might also be able to love from afar. But this was a question, not an answer.
(George Grella, New York Classical Review, Dec 2016)
The three stars—Susanna Phillips as Clémence, Eric Owens as Jaufré, and Tamara Mumford as the Pilgrim—are all superheroes, giving astonishing, musically and theatrically impeccable performances of difficult, marathon roles. Owens’ fine-grained bass-baritone manages to be both dark and glowing, full of tormented humanity. Phillips looked and sounded stunning, with a resplendent soprano befitting a love object. She also displayed impressive acting chops, particularly at the end, in her grief over the Jaufré’s death. Mumford, wigged and costumed to look convincingly male, has a luscious mezzo and an appealingly direct delivery. Many of the Pilgrim’s vocal lines end with downward motion and a final word or syllable that is spoken rather than sung, a sort of last-minute Sprechstimme. It’s a striking technique that Mumford incorporated naturally and expressively.
(Joshua Rosenblum, The Huffington Post, Dec 2016)
That the Met orchestra, which sometimes tends toward the bombastic, played throughout with such delicacy indicates that conductor Susanna Mälkki has both exquisite taste and a phenomenal sense of control. In lesser hands this piece might end up as diffuse as a dish of lukewarm Jell-O, but Mälkki made everything cohere into a web of precise gossamer.
As the star-crossed lovers Jaufré and Clémence, bass-baritone Eric Owens and soprano Susanna Phillips sang handsomely and sensitively, though neither artist wields the sort of vocal or visual glamour that might help enliven the diffuse storyline. (During Clémence’s extravagant final aria, I couldn’t help wondering how it might sound performed by the Met diva seated just across the aisle from me, a Titian-tressed, brocade-swathed Anna Netrebko.)
(James Jorden, Observer.com, Dec 2016)
Six weeks ago, Saariaho, Malkki, director Lepage and singers Phillips and mezzo Tamara Mumford along with the Met’s general manager Peter Gelb gathered to talk about the creation of the production at the Guggenheim Museum’s Works & Process series. The word that was most used to describe L’AMOUR was “shimmering” and, having seen it now on stage, it was most apt. It describes the production, the voice of Phillips and, most certainly, the seductive music of Saariaho with its vast orchestral colorings, whether in the use of percussion with its tingling elements or of the soprano. It was fascinating in every way.
Hearing Phillips as Clemence, the lady of Tripoli, in this complex music–which seemed natural and easy coming out of her mouth–was a revelation. Having only seen her at the Met as Musetta in LA BOHEME, where her “Quando m’en vo” (Musetta’s Waltz) stopped the show dead, one could never have imagined the subtleties of her gorgeous singing, and acting, here. The development of her character, from the rather stand-offish lady who first hears of her ‘love from afar’ through the Pilgrim (Mumford) to the nurturing figure who holds the dying Jaufre (bass Eric Owens), was as clear and pure as her voice. Her final aria was devastatingly beautiful.
As the go-between, the Pilgrim, Mumford brought dignity and mellow sounds–and a bit of humor–to her role. Her smoky mezzo did its most memorable work in explaining the obsession of Jaufre to Clemence, working to conjure up pieces of his melodies to explain his ardor. I found Owens less convincing as Jaufre, neither in his ardor nor his torment, perhaps because the music didn’t seem to fit his voice so well.
Richard Sasanow, BroadwayWorld.com, Dec 2016)
The three American principal singers equally stood out. Bass-baritone Eric Owens (Jaufre) brought a heartfelt desperation to his character’s descent into psychosis. Mezzo-soprano Tamara Mumford was notably outstanding as the pilgrim, handling long and often times challenging passages of Sarriaho’s score with control, elegance, and distinct style. But it was soprano Susanna Phillips who had the most revelatory performance of the evening as Clemence. Phillips, who I have seen many times in smaller, more comedic roles, demonstrated her ability to bring genuine dramatic flair to her work. Her mad scene in the final act of the opera, where her character realizes that it was ultimately Jaufre’s voyage to her that caused his death, finds Phillips transforming from contemplative and dispassionate temptress to ruined woman in a matter of moments.
(Bryan Buttler, Out Magazine, Dec 2016)
Saariaho has said that as a female composer, she identifies with both the lady and the troubadour, and the Met’s cast gives ideal voice to all her creations and alter egos. Eric Owens sings Jaufré with touching seriousness and vulnerability, his supple, tender baritone sliding over the syllables of Armin Maloof’s libretto. As Clémence, Susanna Phillips does honor to a female character of rare spine and depth. Like a wartime nurse watching over a wounded soldier, she lets herself be mesmerized by the ardor of a dying man, and in Phillips’s timbre you can hear skepticism softening into curiosity and then full-throated love. Tamara Mumford sings the Pilgrim who sails back and forth across the Mediterranean, her gentle but muscular voice like a chain across the water.
(Justin Davidson, Vulture.com, Dec 2016)