Performed in the original French with Czech and English subtitles
Czech premiere 24th March 2017, Janáček Theatre
Our tender words sail between the shores…
Long ago in the south of France there lived a troubadour. He sings of love for an imaginary woman. He then sets out on a crusade and never returns. Neither his name nor his verse were forgotten and over time a legend grew up of how he set of for Tripolis seeking the lady of his heart, to die there in her arms. This troubadour was Jaufré Rudel, Prince of Blaye, who perfected the concept of “love from afar”. His story and the legends around it have inspired artists over the succeeding centuries, including ours. The Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho fi rst encountered the legend of Jaufré in 1993 and set several of his poems to music. From songs it was only a small step to an opera and so Jaufré’s story became the subject of her fi rst operatic work. L’amour de loin was premiered in 2000 at the Salzburg Festival, in 2003 it won the Grawemeyer Award for Music Composition and is one of the most frequently performed contemporary operas. It is being presented in the Czech Republic for the first time.
Marko Ivanović, the principal conductor of the Janáček Opera NTB, whose opera Enchantia (based on Gerald Durrell's novel The Talking Parcel) is one of the most successful new works to be shown on the Brno stage, said that: "It is interesting to look at the score of L'amour de loin, one of the most important operas of the 21st century, through the eyes of a composer. For me, the score is musically pure and clear, and the musical language of Kaija Saariaho is close to the impressionists. For me personally it is impressionism of the 21st century."
"It is a story which surrenders to the higher principle of love, which makes us want to be better and more loving. It poses the question whether it is possible for the human soul to be like this in our world and whether we are capable of achieving it," said the director Jiří Heřman before continuing: "The troubadour Jaufré Rudel follows his concept of love with absolute submission, it gives him the chance to die in bliss. For me, the character of Clémence is an example of a woman who gradually opens up her heart, she experiences a brief state of bliss and loses it, just as Jaufré does in his first meeting with the Pilgrim. Clémence isn't yet ready to accept that moment, so that it might remain forever."
What is love? That which we can take in our arms, or…
Jaufré Rudel is a famous troubadour, not lacking elegant verse or the embrace of women. All at once however he finds all his words empty. His friends remind him of merry drinking sessions and nights full of passionate love, but he however feels that no embraces will suffice to return meaning to his life and his songs. His mind clings to his ideal. Somewhere far away lives the woman of his dreams, a peasant with the heart of a princess, or a princess with the heart of a peasant. “She doesn’t exist”, sings the chorus. “She exists,” replies the voice of The Pilgrim. He saw her, when she went to church on Easter Sunday, there in far‑off Tripoli. Jaufré wants to know more – what her eyes are like, and her hair… but when he wants The Pilgrim to give her name, he refuses. He falls into a trance, and when he comes to The Pilgrim is gone, leaving only the impression of the lady from afar.
The Pilgrim returns to Clémence, the Countess of Tripoli. He brings greetings but encounters rebukes that he has left his native France. Everyone wishes to see the beauties of the Orient, only Clémence longs for her home in Toulouse, from where she was taken as a child. She hopes that at least some memory of her remains in her native land. “Someone there is thinking of you, a troubadour…,” The Pilgrim shares Jaufré’s secret. Clémence is dismissive; she is not the ideal that the troubadour describes in his songs.
The Pilgrim returns to France and encounters Jaufré living only on his thoughts of his far‑off love. “I told her of you and your songs; she has the right to know.” The Pilgrim’s report at first provokes Jaufré’s rage, as he believes she should have first heard his confession from his lips. Once his rage subsides, Jaufré decides that he must set out on a journey and that he has to meet her. “Now you have to tell me her name.” “Her name is Clémence…” Clémence finds in Jaufré’s distant love fulfilment of her desire for home – since there exists someone in her native France who is thinking of her, she is still not dead for everyone there. She takes no notice of the teasing of other women. She does not seek a lover’s embrace nor a husband; love from afar is an ideal she dreams of.
Jaufré has heard many tales and songs from those who had returned from the crusades over the seas and now for the first time he himself will set out. His initial enthusiasm wanes, and the foreboding impact of every wave increases his misgivings. Above the ship night falls and Jaufré finally falls asleep. His sleep is disturbed by a dream that becomes a nightmare. Jaufré despairingly wakes The Pilgrim. In his dream he saw Clémence, standing on a boat before him, singing his song. She then stepped onto the surface of the sea and walked after him like Our Lord. She motions for him to follow her, but he is not able to. She disappears. The Pilgrim attempts in vain to calm Jaufré, who succumbs to doubts on his decision. If only he had never set out on this journey…
Reports of a boat from France arrive at Tripoli’s Citadel. Clémence knows that Jaufré is on board and vainly attempts to come to terms with his arrival, which she never wished for. The Pilgrim arrives bringing news. Jaufré fell sick at sea and is dying. Only Clémence can attempt to still hold on to his spirit. The first encounter; the first touching of hands. Jaufré is happy, after all his doubts he has found the love he sought. He dies in the moment when he finds fulfilment of his life, but in the same moment Clémence loses him. With a despairing scream she vents her hatred on God – he has died for her, she will never love again and will spend the remainder of her life in a cloister. Her prayers are now for him, even she has in the end found a way to her love from afar...