Review: Kaija Saariaho’s ‘Adriana Mater,’ After Her Death

“Adriana Martell” is an opera with a simple story, with difficult questions and emotions. Adriana (mezzo-soprano Fleur Baron, a powerful presence in her petite frame) rejects the drunken youth Tsargo with her expression of disgust and pity. But then, Tsargo, sung by baritone Christopher Purves with an Alberich-like bite, returns to wartime and uses her circumstances and the power of her assault rifle to rape her. Adriana becomes pregnant and, despite the warnings of her sister Levka (the charming and lyrical soprano Axel Fanyo), chooses to give birth to her child. She is “not his child,” says Adriana. “It’s mine.”

But she worries. Will this child be like Tsargo, or like her? Cain or Abel? Set 17 years later, the second act tests that uncertainty when his son Jonas (the agile, Heldentener-like Nicholas Huang) learns his father’s identity and sets out to kill him. increase. But seeing Tsargo, blind and wounded, he doesn’t feel like it. Jonas is ashamed that he did not commit the murder, but his mother is relieved. he really is her son.

There is little representation in Saariaho’s music. Adriana’s off-stage rape is punctuated with violent chords and drill-like percussion evokes a raid of war, but the writing is otherwise focused on atmosphere and abstraction. In a way that pre-empts the grand tapestry of “Innocence,” she gives each character a specific sound. Adriana’s rowdy harmonies, Lefka’s long melodic line, Tsargo’s dark shadowy bass strings, Jonas’ frenzied lightness. Too often in contemporary music, conductors seem to simply keep time. But all this was masterfully handled by Salonen, who looked lively and confident as if he were directing Beethoven.

The production in Sellers’ concert hall was minimal, as was the original production at the Paris Opera. Here, the action unfolded on platforms of varying heights, and Kamille Asaf’s costumed singers almost always, if not in particular places, seemed solitary and contemporary. . At the beginning, under the lights of James F. Ingalls, Adriana and Tsargo’s small stage is painted yellow and blue, as if to suggest that the story is set in Ukraine.

However, the comparison with the current war was not memorable. As the action unfolded, the colors changed constantly, whimsical and expressive. After all, neither Sellers nor Opera needed to update their stories to make them more recognizable. It’s already built into the score as Saariaho’s delicate, comforting music looks at the worst of the world and says, “The only way forward is grace.”

“Adriana Mater”

Performed at San Francisco’s Davis Symphony Hall on Sunday.

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