“L’Amour de Loin” will be conducted by another Finn, Susanna Malkki, in a belated Met debut for this formidable, charismatic artist, the new music director of the Helsinki Philharmonic.
“L’Amour de Loin” will be conducted by another Finn, Susanna Malkki, in a belated Met debut for this formidable, charismatic artist, the new music director of the Helsinki Philharmonic. The Met has a sorry history of engaging female conductors. The gender barrier was broken in 1976 by Sarah Caldwell, but only at the insistence of Beverly Sills, who agreed to sing in “La Traviata” on the condition that Caldwell be hired to conduct. Simone Young was next, 20 years later, making an auspicious 1996 debut in “La Bohème.” But she last appeared at the house in 1998. In 2013, the excellent British conductor Jane Glover, an early-music specialist, became the third woman to conduct at the Met, though her assignment hardly explored her gifts and even carried a hint of playing to female stereotypes: a family-fare version of “The Magic Flute” trimmed down and performed in English.
Ms. Malkki, by contrast, has been entrusted with a challenging contemporary opera, Ms. Saariaho’s first. Though the score is rapturously orchestrated and involves a chorus, it includes just three solo roles. With a poetic French libretto by the Lebanese-born novelist Amin Maalouf, the story centers on Jaufré Rudel, a troubadour prince of Aquitaine. Sick at heart from a life of aristocratic excess, Jaufré develops an idealized love for Clémence, the beautiful countess of Tripoli, whom he learns of from a pilgrim. The prince rhapsodizes about the countess in lyrically alluring songs yet resists meeting her in person, lest reality spoil his “amour de loin.”