L’Amour de loin turns anxiously around deeper themes – obsession and devotion, reality and illusion, the loneliness of the artist and the need to belong.
L’Amour de loin is based on La Vida breve, by the great twelfth-century troubador, Jaufré Rudel, Prince of Blaye. Tired of the superficiality of life enjoyed by young men of his rank, Jaufré dreams of an idealised and distant love. Contrary to his expectations, a Pilgrim arrived from the Christian Kingdom of Outre-Mer, claims that he knows of such a woman – Clémence, Countess of Tripoli. Jaufré becomes obsessed with her and decides to travel to meet her.
Meanwhile, Clémence has heard of the devotion of this Prince from a faraway land. Initially suspicious, she soon is haunted by dreams of her distant lover. However Jaufré’s voyage is hard and by the time he arrives in Tripoli, he is gravely ill. The lovers meet and declare their passion just before Jaufré dies.
"Love from Afar"
Opera in 5 acts
Sung in French
About 2 hours 15 min + intervals
In Aquitaine, Tripoli, and at sea
Jaufré, having become weary of the pleasures of life, longs for a different love, one far away, but realizes that it is unlikely that he will ever find her. The chorus, made up of his old companions, laughs at his dreams and tells him the woman he sings about does not exist. Then a Pilgrim (male but sung by a mezzo-soprano) recently arrived from abroad tells Jaufré that such a woman does indeed exist because the Pilgrim has met her. Jaufré devotes himself to thinking only of her.
The Pilgrim returns to Tripoli, meets Clémence, and tells her that, in France, a prince-troubadour extols her in his songs, calling her his "love from afar". This initially offends her, but Clémence begins to dream of this strange and faraway lover, asking herself if she is worthy to receive such devotion.
Upon his return to Blaye, the Pilgrim again meets Jaufré and tells him that the lady now knows that he sings about her. Jaufré asks him if he has sung his songs to Clémence correctly, to which he responds "more or less". Jaufré decides that he must travel to meet her. The Pilgrim tells Jaufré Clémence's name and leaves.
Clémence seems to prefer that their relationship remain distant as she is reluctant to live constantly waiting and does not want to suffer.
On impulse, Jaufré sets out to meet his "love from afar", but not without trepidation. He is anguished about the possibility that he has not made the right decision, so much so that he becomes severely ill, and the sickness increases as he gets closer to Tripoli. The Pilgrim has him rest, and he hallucinates seeing Clémence on the water. By the time he arrives in Tripoli, he is dying.
The ship berths and the Pilgrim hurries off to tell the countess that Jaufré has arrived, that he is close to death, and that he wants to see her. Carried on a pallet, Jaufré is brought to the citadel unconscious, but recovers somewhat in Clémence's presence. With Jaufré approaching death, the couple embrace and declare their love for each other. After Jaufré dies in her arms, Clémence rages against Heaven and considers herself responsible for the tragedy. She decides to enter a convent and the last scene shows her in prayer. But her words are ambiguous: it is not clear whether the "Love from afar" to whom she is praying on her knees is God or Jaufré.
Jaufré Rudel – Baritone
Prince of Blaye, and troubadour obsessed with idealized love
The Pilgrim – Mezzo-soprano
The go-between who carries messages back and forth
Clémence – Soprano
The Countess of Tripoli
Kaija Anneli Saariaho is a Finnish composer based in Paris, France.
Saariaho studied composition in Helsinki, Freiburg, and Paris, where she has lived since 1982. Her research at the Institute for Research and Coordination in Acoustics/Music (IRCAM) marked a turning point in her music away from strict serialism towards spectralism. Her characteristically rich, polyphonic textures are often created by combining live music and electronics.
In a 2019 composers' poll by BBC Music Magazine, Saariaho was ranked the greatest living composer.
“I was not especially enthusiastic about opera when I was young, and I thought I would never write one. I felt it was an art form of the past, with expensive singers exposing their high notes, and bad theater, and ridiculous stories which don't concern us. But then little by little I realized that it can be defined very differently, that on the contrary opera can be something profound and not superficial - a wonderful meeting point for all the other arts.”
Saariaho often works with electronics alongside traditional instruments.
Most prominent operas
Amin Maalouf is a Lebanese-born French author. He's written the librettos for Saariaho's four operas L'amour de loin, Adriana Mater, La Passion de Simone and Émilie.
4, 3, 3, 3 - 4, 2, 3, 1
timp, perc, harp, piano (keyboard), strings, electronics
L'amour de loin premiered at the Salzburg Festival in 2000.
Excerpt (The Pilgrim)
Aria - Ben tenc lo Seignor per verai (Clémence, chorus)
Aria – Si tu t'appelles Amour "Prayer" (Clémence)