Thursday, April 06, 2006

Saariaho's 'Adriana Mater' in Paris

Adriana Mater opera's world première is big success in Paris

From Helsingin Sanomat

The world première of Kaija Saariaho's second opera Adriana Mater at L'Opéra Bastille in Paris on Monday was a big success. The applause following the performance was excited albeit quite short, with people shouting "Bravo". Once the composer, dressed in red, stepped onto the stage, she received a thunderous ovation.
Adriana Mater has recently received some publicity even through French television. Composer Kaija Saariaho, librettist Amin Maalouf, director Peter Sellars, and conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen were all interviewed in the cultural news broadcasts of French TV. In the TV interview Saariaho named director Sellars as the hero of the performance. Aside from the bitter and violent war events, Sellars has added to the opera a dimension of hope that the conductor herself had not envisaged in the first place.
One of the principal themes in the opera is the relationship between the main character Adriana and her sister Refka. According to librettist Maalouf, the opera reflects "our world that has gone off the rails". While violent powers are rumbling in the music of the opera, also a poetic level of dream and reverie is present. The intense theme of the work forces the individual to contemplate particularly his or her relationship towards revenge and forgiveness.
Adriana Mater demonstrates that Kaija Saariaho remains one of the most interesting and imaginative contemporary composers.
A strike forced L'Opéra Bastille to postpone Thursday's world première until Monday, and performances are to continue through April. However, the atmosphere in Paris is still tense, and further large demonstrations have been planned for today - Tuesday - against the contested new labour laws. Particularly students are protesting against the newly passed legislation, and strikes and street protests are expected to expand further.

Adriana Mater, Paris Opera, Bastille

By Francis Carlin
From the Financial Times - April 4 2006 17:41

Six years after the success of her first opera, L’Amour de loin, Kaija Saariaho is back with a modern fable, a striking story of lust and desire for vengeance.
Adriana is raped by Tsargo, who has been transformed by war from a drunk into a swaggering bully. He disappears. She gives birth and worries if her son Yonas will be Cain or Abel. Years later, the adolescent Yonas resolves to kill his father but falters when he sees Tsargo is now blind and a broken man.
The dream team that worked on L’Amour de loin is back. The libretto is by Amin Maalouf, the production by Peter Sellars and sets by George Tsypin. Saariaho again steers clear of the template of modern opera: the narrative is stark and linear. But you have to be a fervent supporter of the Saariaho style to overlook the flaws.
Saariaho’s decision to write for the stage was in part prompted by Messiaen’s St François d’Assise, an opera that is really a gargantuan oratorio. L’Amour de loin shared the same unconcern with dramatic pulse but worked for those who were entranced by its luxuriant orchestration. Adriana tries to tackle a more physical world and fails. Saariaho cannot juggle with theatrical pace and timing. A disembodied chorus barks out snippets of text and the amplification bombards us with crude distortion.
Adriana treats Maalouf’s wordy, banal libretto with scant regard for French meter. Vital sentences are drowned out. Worse, the first three scenes are dominated by a background blur from the orchestra.

As for the cast, Patricia Bardon is a rich-toned Adriana; Solveig Kringelborn, as her sister Refka, soars above the fray and Gordon Gietz is a lithe, energetic Yonas. Stephen Milling’s giant proportions suit Tsargo’s character but he stumbles over uninteresting music towards the end.
Esa-Pekka Salonen conducts a disciplined orchestra.
There are cheers for Saariaho but scant applause. The dream team has been caught resting on its laurels.

The Opera 'Adriana Mater' Addresses Motherhood in a War Zone

By Alan Riding
From the New York Times - April 5, 2006

At its most powerful, opera takes human, religious and political dramas of the past and gives them enduring relevance. "Adriana Mater," the new opera by the heralded Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho, borrows its haunting narrative from our own age and shows it to be a story for all time.
Its setting is a modern war, modern because it could be happening now, yet primitive because its weapons include rape. Thus, while the country is not named, the plot inevitably evokes the Bosnian war of the 1990's, with its grim legacy of rape and ethnic cleansing.
But here there is a twist: Adriana Mater is raped by a soldier from her own community. Ignoring the advice of her sister, Refka, Adriana refuses an abortion and rears a son, Yonas, to believe that his father died a war hero. At 17, he learns the truth. When the man, Tsargo, returns to the village, Yonas decides to kill him.
A story of such intensity demands music of equal power, and to judge by the enthusiastic response of the Bastille Opera's packed house at Monday's world premiere, Ms. Saariaho succeeded in forging a work on an emotional scale only occasionally heard in contemporary opera.
The cast comprises just four characters — Adriana, Refka, Yonas and Tsargo — who are backed by an amplified offstage chorus. The opera's changing moods are, in turn, defined by richly varied orchestration, both explosive and reflective, as well as by the urgent parlando and lyrical arias of the vocal parts.
"Adriana Mater" is Ms. Saariaho's second opera. And as with her first, "L'Amour de Loin," presented at the Salzburg Festival in 2000 and since widely performed, she has again joined forces with the Lebanese writer Amin Maalouf as librettist and the American director Peter Sellars.
But "Adriana Mater," which was commissioned by the Paris National Opera and the Finnish National Opera, is a far darker work, one searingly painful in its depiction of humanity.
"If there is not a lot of action, there must be big feelings," Ms. Saariaho, 53, a soft-spoken woman known to be intensely private, said in an interview a few days before the premiere. "I am more for big feelings than a lot of action. I did not say I wanted something sad or violent. It just happened by itself."
Ms. Saariaho, the mother of two, said she was drawn to the subject of motherhood, still moved by the memory of another heart beating inside her. The idea of confronting motherhood and war then emerged from Mr. Maalouf's experience as a war reporter who later chose fiction — and exile in Paris — when civil war erupted in his native Lebanon.
"The story is set in no fixed place at no fixed time," Mr. Maalouf, 57, said in the opera's program. "Even so, I had in mind some of the conflicts I have followed closely, notably that of former Yugoslavia. But the most important thing for me was that Adriana's aggressor was from her community, not the enemy camp."
Ms. Saariaho said she frequently discussed the story with Mr. Maalouf, but only began composing when the libretto was completed. This she did on a computer, working mainly from her imagination. As a result, she said, when she heard the score played by an orchestra for the first time, it was "very shocking."
"That moment, when I start hearing it, I stop imagining it," she said. "I begin to forget what was in my mind. I go back and look at the score and remember what I heard the orchestra play and what I first imagined. And I ask myself, 'Is this what it is supposed to be?' I have to be very critical. Did I write it as I imagined it, if this is how it is played?"
Still, Ms. Saariaho is evidently assured by working with longtime friends, not only Mr. Maalouf and Mr. Sellars, but also Esa-Pekka Salonen, a fellow Finn, who is conducting the Paris Opera orchestra for the five performances of "Adriana Mater," through April 18. "If the artists come together, the result is so much more than music," she said.
With George Tsypin's translucent décor suggesting a Balkan or Middle Eastern village, Mr. Sellars's fluent direction helps the opera's four characters to occupy the Bastille Opera's large stage. Divided into seven tableaus, the opera opens with Adriana (the Irish mezzo-soprano Patricia Bardon) rebuffing the advances of a drunken villager, Tsargo (the Danish bass Stephen Milling).
In the second tableau, Tsargo returns as a soldier and, when Adriana again rejects him, he bursts into her home and rapes her. In the third scene, with Adriana now pregnant, Refka (the Norwegian soprano Solveig Kringelborn) chastises her for bearing the son of a monster. But Adriana responds: "It is not his child, Rekfa, it is mine."
The remaining four tableaus take place 17 years later, when Yonas (the Canadian tenor Gordon Gietz) sets out to kill his father. "If he must kill him, he will kill him," Adriana responds with resignation.
But this is where the opera turns from despair to hope.
Yonas cannot bring himself to kill Tsargo, now old and blind. Feeling he has betrayed his mother, he begs her forgiveness. But now, at last, Adriana is sure that her blood flows through Yonas's veins. "This man deserved to die, my son, but you did not deserve to kill," she says. And taking her son in her arms, she concludes: "We are not avenged, Yonas, but we are saved."
Mr. Sellars, clearly moved by the opera, described it as "a classic."
"In the 21st century," he said in an interview, "we have a responsibility to do more than sit around and tell sad stories. Here we see there will be a future. And that future has been guaranteed all over the world by women, women who in impossible situations nourish and cultivate human dignity."

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