NEW YORK (AP) — Spanning five brief acts, "L'Amour de Loin (Love from Afar)" tells of a long-distance and ultimately doomed romance between a medieval French troubadour and the countess of Tripoli.
They fall in love not by meeting but through messages relayed back and forth across the sea by the opera's third character, the Pilgrim. And to mezzo-soprano Tamara Mumford, who portrays that "trousers" role in the Metropolitan Opera's production, "he's the most interesting character in the piece."
"There's something very ambiguous, very mysterious about him," Mumford said in a recent telephone interview. "The way he connects the two lovers, it's almost as if he's living vicariously through them. He makes himself part of the love story in a way, and eventually realizes maybe he's going a little too far."
"L'Amour," with music by Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho and libretto by the Lebanese-born writer Amin Maalouf, will be shown Saturday in movie theaters around the world as part of the Met's "Live in HD" series.
Mumford said Saariaho, who attended rehearsals, told her that she wrote the role of the Pilgrim for a mezzo because she wanted his voice to serve as "the medium between the two lovers, with a sound that was calm and soothing." The role of the troubadour, Jaufre Rudel, is sung by bass-baritone Eric Owens and the countess Clemence by soprano Susanna Phillips.
WOMEN'S WORK IS RARELY DONE
Saariaho, a 64-year-old Finn who now lives in Paris, is only the second woman to have an opera performed at the Met, more than a century after Ethel Smyth's "Der Wald (The Forest)" received two performances in 1903. In addition, the Met's production is conducted by another Finn, Susanna Malkki, who is just the fourth woman to take the podium at the Met following Sarah Caldwell (1976 debut), Simone Young (1996) and Jane Glover (2013).
Watching the two women embrace during their curtain call "was a special moment," Mumford said. "I felt honored to be part of this. History was being made, and I can't imagine a better team."
LET THERE BE LIGHTS. LOTS OF THEM!
The production, directed by Robert Lepage, uses 28,000 LED lights strung out in 30 rows that cover the stage to conjure the sea that separates the lovers. These lights change color and rest on a giant frame that tilts and rises to simulate waves. (At the 2000 world premiere in Salzburg, Austria, real water was used onstage.)
The lights create a frequently mesmerizing effect for the audience, but Mumford said the performers onstage are in no danger of being distracted. "They have a guard, a fabric over the back," she said. "So we sometimes get little glimpses of the lights coming back at us, but that's all."
WHERE TO SEE IT
The HD broadcast of "L'Amour de Loin" will be shown starting at 12:55 p.m. EST on Saturday. A list of theaters can be found at the Met's website: http://www.metopera.org/Season/In-Cinemas/Theater-Finder/
In the U.S., it will be repeated on Wednesday, Dec. 21, at 6:30 p.m. local time.