How many lives can a person live in just 34 years? Before her early death, the French-Jewish philosopher and mystic Simone Weil took part in the Spanish Civil War, worked in a refugee camp, in a factory and as a teacher. Forever on the move in search of new truths.
The oratorio La Passion de Simone is the third of four collaborations between the Finnish composer and Polar Prize laureate Kaija Saariaho with the French-Lebanese author Amin Maalouf, starting with the highly acclaimed L’amour de loin. On the structure of Bach’s Passions, Saariaho’s unique and suspenseful score, performed by court singer Anne Sofie von Otter as a soloist, immerses the listener in the life and thoughts of Simone Weil.
Anne Sofie von Otter
The Royal Swedish Opera Chorus
The Royal Swedish Orchestra
James Grossmith, Jannica Gustafsson
Recorded spoken voice
Assistant Chorus Master
La Passion de Simone is an oratorio for solo soprano, choir, orchestra, and electronics.
La Passion consists of 15 stations. The idea for the form of the text and the entire work came from the Passion play tradition. This outer form is, however, the only similarity to the traditional oratorio, at least in my opinion. The 15 movements are different in character and structure, and they shed light on different moments in Simone Weil’s life and interpret some of her ideas. The soprano has the crucial role of the narrator. Weil’s own texts are presented in the electronics surrounding the audience. The choir and orchestra create the world in which live both the soprano part and the spoken words in the electronics part.
- Kaija Saariaho
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.
‘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.