Last month I enjoyed my first Opera at Toronto’s Four Season Centre for the Performing Arts. I was captivated by The Canadian Opera Company’s production of Puccini’s classic, Tosca. Last week I took my friend Mike to the opening night of the COC’s production of the contemporary masterpiece, Love From Afar.
It was the Canadian premiere of acclaimed Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho’s “L’amour de loin”, a haunting and vivid musical creation that has become one of the most performed and successful operas composed of this century. Since the opera’s premiere in 2000 at the Salzburg Festival, Love from Afar has captivated audiences worldwide with performances at Théâtre du Châtelet, Sante Fe Opera, Stadttheater Bern, Finnish National Opera, the Bergen International Festival, English National Opera and Vlaamse Opera. Arguably the greatest opera of the 21st century, it has been praised as a “haunting and resonant work… transfixing and utterly distinguished” by the New York Times.
Love from Afar tells the story of a world-weary troubadour from France who carries on a long-distance love affair with a beautiful woman living in Tripoli. Although they never see or speak to each other, their feelings develop and grow through the efforts of an enigmatic Pilgrim, who carries messages of love and yearning between the two. Saariaho drew her inspiration for the work from the life and song texts of Jaufré Rudel, a French prince and troubadour of the 12th century, who often wrote of his obsessive love for an ideal, unattainable woman and whether such a love is best preserved from afar. The resulting work is a melding of medieval musings with the sounds of the modern age.
Watching a contemporary Opera such as Love From Afar just two weeks after a classic such as Tosca gave me a unique opportunity to reflect on my preferences. Love From Afar offers stunning costuming and on stage technical marvels such as suspended dancers and interactive set design. While I enjoyed these modern elements I do have to say that I preferred Tosca for its classic storytelling. Love From Afar has a much more fluid storyline which requires more thoughtful reflection and introspection. I found the angst of love in Tosca, which is always the heart of the matter, to be more compelling and believable.
Simply put, it was hard to believe that two individuals who had never set eyes on each other, could in fact be in love. For whatever reason, I felt as though the star crossed lovers on stage were in many ways jinxed by the fouls and follies of modern online dating. You know that classic case of “falling in love with someone you have never met.” A dangerous business (because once you do finally meet “they” are usually taller, fatter or much more effeminate than you had envisioned them to be). My jaw dropped when our Beauty is advised by our Pilgrim that her Troubadour who had just arrived in Tripoli is seconds away from his death. Our Troubadour has become ill at sea. Our Beauty takes to manic hysteria, declaring she will never love again (insert dramatic eye roll here). I thought to myself, “did he really just die from a nasty case of sea sickness?” I couldn’t help but moan. What melodrama. I had to reflect for some time…why was I having such a strong reaction to this display of affection. Was I jealous? A single and bitter gay days away from Valentines?
The final scene: the audience is astounded by a choir of angels reflecting light into the crowd from what appeared to be glistening iPads. Male dancers hang over the stage, suspended in space appearing like three sperm dressed in white.
Rebirth. Angelic. Contemplation. Standing ovation. Applause. I exit with the excited crowds thinking, “I have never felt so single.” On the streetcar home I checked my iPhone and read a lovely complimentary message from a mysterious gay. He simply wrote, “I wish I could take a cute boy like you to the Opera.” I cracked a smile, closed my eyes and thought, “maybe there is still hope.” I clicked on his twitter profile and soon found out he was from Stockholm. Perhaps this Love From Afar business is doable after all…