The Pick: Love From Afar, a haunting tale of longing that occasionally masquerades as a circus act

The Pick: Love From Afar, a haunting tale of longing that occasionally masquerades as a circus act

Krisztina Szabó as the Pilgrim and Russell Braun floating above as Jaufré (Image: Michael Cooper) 

To say the Canadian Opera Company’s production of Love From Afar has a lot going on would be a bit of an understatement. This particular take on Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho’s 2000 opera—about a medieval poet who falls in love with a faraway woman he’s never seen—was directed by Daniele Finzi Pasca, a Cirque du Soleil alum, and the result is like a less flashy, opera-fied version of the troupe’s Michael Jackson Immortal show. Before the singing even begins, a shimmering sheet of blue silk flies over the audience. Then there are the cartwheeling tumblers, the dazzling video projections, and Russell Braun hanging in a suspended throne that looks like Glinda’s bubble from Wicked. It’s almost enough to distract you from the music.

Luckily, Saariaho’s score is so hauntingly evocative that the elaborate stage sets fade into the background as the lush sound takes the spotlight. Saariaho is influenced by Wagner and Debussy, but her musical language is entirely contemporary. It combines traditional instruments with electronic sounds, creating dissonant, totally counterintuitive orchestrations that wail, pierce and moan. While the clownish set pieces can sometimes feel curiously dislocated from the plot, Saariaho’s swirling orchestral motifs capture the almost masochistic pleasure of idealized, unrequited love. The singers—Braun as the poet, soprano Erin Wall, the standout, as his love interest and mezzo Krisztina Szabó as their intermediary—float above, their spare melodies emphasizing the exquisite pain of their emotional torment. Sure, the COC’s production is great to look at—but sometimes it’s even better with your eyes closed.

The details: To Feb. 22. $133–$161. Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, 145 Queen St. W., coc.ca