L'amour de loin - ENO, 3 July 2009
The contemplative music of L'amour de loin hypnotises me. It ripples and shimmers, coloured as subtly and precisely as a paint chart with twenty different shades of white. Only sparing percussive interventions gesture above the wash of sound. Kaija Saariaho's sound world mutates with the laconic inevitability of a summer cloudscape, time passes imperceptibly.
That's on me Ipod.
(Where it is, incidentally, perfect in length and mood for an outbound Eurostar trip).
In the gigantic Coliseum, the detail - and the intimacy so essential to its appreciation - evaporates. Anyone who like me wasn't in the first few rows might as well have been in the next room.
And talk about slow-moving. L'amour de loin makes Pelléas et Mélisande look like an action thriller. A lovelorn troubadour dreams of his perfect woman, far away. When he discovers from a pilgrim that she really exists, he journeys across the sea to meet her. He dies. That's it.
Could any director turn that into two gripping hours? Perhaps not. Daniele Finzi Pasca's take is almost too exquisite. Minimalist stagescapes are bathed in evocative lighting. Shimmering expanses of parachute silk billow momentarily across the stage, then are sucked into its depths. Gymnasts and wire acrobats tumble and glide in silent slow motion, mirroring and commenting on the singing protagonists. A corner-stage shadow play too miniature to make out is the only ineffective touch.
It's all gorgeous and the technical craft is stunning - light-years ahead of what we usually see in London. But it only comes alive as the troubadour dies - not uncoincidentally the only conventionally 'dramatic' section of the music. I do feel that it might have resonated more successfully if Pasca had focussed on the transformative aspect of both music and text - but who knows?
The chorus sounded drastically under-rehearsed, but Roderick Williams, Joan Rodgers and Faith Sherman were immaculately prepared, and did their best with the non-story and a precise, prosaic English translation that failed to capture the lyric flights of Amin Maalouf's original.
Despite the technical quality, musical and visual, it simply failed to engage. I was fidgety within ten minutes, and soldiering on through willpower alone after an hour. I was not alone. Masses of people slipped out at the interval - almost unheard of here. Was it worth missing Andy Murray's Wimbledämmerung for? I'm still fighting with that one.
***** more photos on next page *****