From seclusion to communion

It is obvious that for the Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho composing responds to a deep inner need. Nonetheless, it cannot be denied that it is also a demanding and solitary task. Around the turn of the millennium, Saariaho found a way out of the reclusive activity of composing in the collaborative form of expression that is opera and has pursued it consistently ever since.

Beginning with the celebrated L'amour de loin, Saariaho embarked on a meaningful collaboration with Lebanese-born French author Amin Maalouf which has resulted in four operas over the years. Many of these works were premiered in productions directed by the American opera director Peter Sellars. The complementarity of their trio brought about richly layered works. 

Kaija Saariaho
When the collaboration of these different disciplines succeeds, opera becomes a powerful, profound and always topical experience that engages all the senses and challenges us like no other art form. To imagine a scenic work is to open ourselves to others and to the world, proposing a sensitive interpretation of the reality that surrounds us.’

Take for example La Passion de Simone, their third work, an oratorio for solo soprano, choir, orchestra and electronics that premiered in November 2006 in Vienna as part of Peter Sellars’ New Crowned Hope festival. In 15 stations, it centres around the figure of French mystic philosopher and political activist Simone Weil, who died in Britain in 1943, where she had attempted to join the French resistance movement.

A collaborative work, La Passion bears the stamp of each of its co-creators. Maalouf, known for his historical novels, introduced many interesting biographical details into his elegant libretto, while the cultural activist Sellars highlighted the social issues to which Simone Weil devoted much of her life. With Saariaho’s own interest in her spiritual quest and abstract almost mathematical pursuits, the end result is a fascinating journey into the gap between Simone Weil’s philosophy and her life, revealing the frailty of a human life in the midst of larger-than-life ideas and the quest for truth.   

On the occasion of the 1st performance of her work at the Royal Swedish Opera, Kaija Saariaho joins dramaturg Katarina Aronsson on stage for an intimate discussion. On Saturday 16 January at 20:30 CET after the stream of La Passion de Simone, you will have the chance to listen to her discuss among other things: her collaboration with Maalouf and Sellars and why she considers La Passion de Simone as her musical testament. 

The full performance is no longer available but other material about the production can be found here.