Saari­aho’s ‘L’Amour’ first work by wo­man at Met since 1903

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - STATE NEWS - By Ronald Blum

When the first notes of Kaija Saari­aho’s “L’Amour de Loin (Love from Afar)” are played at the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Opera on Thurs­day night, it will mark only the sec­ond staged work by a wo­man com­poser in the com­pany’s his­tory — and the first since 1903.

“It is stag­ger­ing,” said Jennifer Hig­don, one of six women to win the Pulitzer Prize for mu­sic. “We’re in the 21st cen­tury. There are a lot of women com­posers out there who are writ­ing a lot of mu­sic, and some of it is fan­tas­tic stuff.”

The Pulitzer Prize for Mu­sic was first awarded in 1943. In 1983, Ellen Taaffe Zwilich be­came the first fe­male com­poser to win the award.

“I ac­tu­ally had some­one say to me at one point that they wanted to do an or­ches­tral piece of mine but they al­ready had done a wo­man that year,” Zwilich re­called this week. “There’s still a bunch of stuff out there. But gen­er­ally speak­ing, the door is open. It’s not easy for any com­poser.”

“L’Amour,” with a li­bretto by Amin Maalouf, pre­miered at the 2000 Salzburg Fes­ti­val in Aus­tria. It is be­ing shown at the Met in a strik­ing new pro­duc­tion by Canadian direc­tor Robert Lepage that fea­tures some 28,000 LED lights about 1 square mil­lime­ter each in 30 rows, in­clud­ing three over the or­ches­tra pit.

Saari­aho, a 64-year-old Finn who has long lived in Paris, also wrote “Adri­ana Mater,” which de­buted at the Opera de Paris’ Bastille au­di­to­rium in 2005, and “Em­i­lie,” first seen at the Opera de Lyon in 2010. She con­sid­ers her­self a com­poser who is a wo­man, not a wo­man com­poser.

“I would not even like to speak about it,” she said last week af­ter a pi­ano re­hearsal at the Met. “It should be a shame.”

Ethel M. Smyth’s “Der Wald (The For­est)” was the first opera by a wo­man com­poser at the Met, re­ceiv­ing just two per­for­mances. It was paired with Verdi’s “Il Trova­tore” for its U.S. de­but on March 11, 1903, and with Donizetti’s “La Fille du Reg­i­ment (The Daugh­ter of the Reg­i­ment)” nine days later. And then it dis­ap­peared.

“I don’t feel like I’m right­ing wrongs,” Met gen­eral man­ager Peter Gelb said. “That Kaija’s a fe­male has ab­so­lutely noth­ing to do with my want­ing to do this work. This is not part of a fe­male quota sys­tem. In my his­tory at the Met, I have no in­ter­est in the sex of the com­poser. My in­ter­est is in the qual­ity of the com­po­si­tion.”

“L’Amour” will be given eight per­for­mances through Dec. 29, and the Dec. 10 mati­nee will be tele­vised to the­aters around the world. Su­sanna Malkki, a highly re­garded 47-yearold Finn who also lives in Paris, will be on the podium — just the fourth wo­man to con­duct the Met fol­low­ing Sarah Caldwell (1976 de­but), Si­mone Young (1996) and Jane Glover (2013).


In an un­dated im­age re­leased by the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Opera, Su­sanna Phillips ap­pears in a scene from Kaija Saari­aho’s “L’Amour de Loin” in New York.

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