[SnarkNotes] KAIJA SAARIAHO: L’Amour de Loin

[First published on Snark [music] Notes on 23/03/2016]


KAIJA SAARIAHO: L’amour de Loin

The music of Kaija Saariaho’s beautiful opera, L’amour de Loin (2000), is gorgeous but, like so many operatic romances, the plot is more than a little bizarre…

[Act I]

Jaufre, a prince and troubadour, sings of his love for a girl he’s never met and doesn’t know exists.

Hoo, boy. This’ll be good… I dislike him already.

A pilgrim tells him about the Countess Clemence, who lives in a distant land.

Pilgrim, allow me to introduce you to the can of worms you just opened.

Jaufre realises this is the same woman from his songs.

Of course he does.
#sarcasm, #That’sNotPossible, #what?!

He presses the pilgrim for information about her, and immediately becomes infatuated.

Jaufre? What are you doing? JAUFRE! STAHP!!!

The pilgrim tiptoes away, leaving Jaufre to his songs.

Smart move, pilgrim. I’d give this guy a wide berth, too.

After a while, Jaufre notices that the pilgrim has left and curses her for having told him of a seemingly perfect girl he’s never to meet.

Hey! Back off, Jaufre! I like this pilgrim!
Besides, you’re the one who’s apparently lovestricken with a girl who you know practically nothing about! Heck, you don’t even know her name!

[Act II]

The pilgrim has traveled to the distant land where the Countess Clemence lives.

No wonder, I too would have fled to a distant land to get away from Jaufre.

The Countess Clemence stops the pilgrim to ask of her homeland, across the sea.

Which just so happens to be the same country where Jaufre lives.
Coincidence? I think not!

The pilgrim tells her about Jaufre, who has been singing of his love for her.

Why would you DO that, pilgrim? Are you some kind of mischievous troll? Are you TRYING to make this plot go haywire?

The Countess Clemence is offended but curious.

Valid responses. I like this woman… for now.

[Act III]

Back in Jaufre’s land, Jaufre presses the pilgrim to tell him what the Countess looks like.

Why am I not surprised?

The pilgrim protests, saying she has already described the Countess twenty or fifty times.

Dude! Let it go already! You have a problem!

The pilgrim advises Jaufre to think about things other than the Countess, warning that some people are saying that he is going mad.

Yes! Jaufre, listen to the pilgrim! She knows what she’s talking about!

Jaufre is infuriated, and demands to know whether the pilgrim believes he’s mad.

Yes. Yes she does. We all believe your current obsession is super unhealthy! 

The pilgrim replies: “If one says to a man ‘you are mad’, it is because one does not think so. When one thinks he is, one contents himself with complaining behind his back.”

I love everything about this line. The tactfulness; the way it doesn’t actually answer the question; the humour; the actual sentiment. This is a beautifully crafted line.

The pilgrim tells Jaufre that she has told the Countess about him.

I guess he was gonna find out sooner or later…

Jaufre is horrified, especially when he learns that the pilgrim has bastardised his romantic ballads when repeating them to the Countess.

“Dammit, Jaufre! I’m a pilgrim – not a singer!”

He decides that he must see the Countess for himself, and sing her his love songs the way they were meant to be performed.

Of COURSE he does!
#seriously? #ThisCannotEndWell #NeverMeetYourHeroes!

Back in Tripoli, the Countess admits that she has fallen for her distant admirer.

NOOOO!
And you were doing so well, Countess! You have doomed at least one of you to a terrible death!

[Act IV]

Travelling on a ship to see the Countess Clemence, Jaufre is plagued by nightmares and worry.

Well, no wonder. He’s going to see the stranger of his obsessions! Who WOULDN’T find such a situation nightmarish?!

Not even the pilgrim can quell his nerves.

Yeah, because “go to sleep and don’t think about it” isn’t the MOST helpful piece of advice the pilgrim could have given.

Jaufre suffers from some kind of breakdown before collapsing unconscious into the pilgrim’s arms.

I’m sorry, Jaufre. But you totally brought this one on yourself.

[Act V]

The Countess, waiting for Jaufre to arrive, doubts how sensible it was to have invited this obsessive individual to meet her.

Oh, now you see sense! If he murders you in your sleep, don’t say you weren’t warned!

The pilgrim enters, and tells her that Jaufre is ill and close to death.

Love doesn’t kill people; obsession to the point of illness kills people.

Jaufre is carried onstage in a stretcher.

While I do now feel a little bit sorry for the guy, it’s probably lucky for the Countess that he’s too weak to do her any harm.

The two lovers meet and sing about how much they love each other for a good twenty minutes or so.

Just die already!
(Look, Saariaho, I know this is opera, but it’s also the twenty-first century. The era of short attention spans! Is it really necessary for you to draw out a death scene for a whole twenty minutes?)

Eventually Jaufre actually dies.

THANK you.

The Countess cries to God that she’d hoped God would grant them “an instant, just one instant of true happiness, without suffering, without illness, without the approach of death.”

…Steady on, Countess! What’s wrong with you? You didn’t know Jaufre any better than he knew you!

The pilgrim is also upset, but more controlled.

Well, yeah. Because the pilgrim is the only level-headed character in this opera.

Despite having just shouted venomously at God, the Countess concludes she does not deserve another man’s love, and decides to enter a convent.

Um, I don’t really follow the logic, but I can certainly agree with the conclusion. This woman probably shouldn’t be marrying anyone any time soon.

In the convent, the Countess prays, telling God that He is now her distant love.

That’s actually quite a nice parallel. I can appreciate that parallel… so long as she’s not thinking God’s going to die because he loves her too much, like Jaufre did…
Oh. Wait.

Moral of the story: the only safe long-distance relationship a girl can have is with God.

BETTER MORAL OF THE STORY: Don’t fall in love with people you’ve never met. That’s seriously messed up, a little bit stalker-ish, and it most likely won’t end well!

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