It's not every day that one gets to see the world's leading interpreter of contemporary vocal music from the third row, but that's where I had the good fortune to be tonight to witness the American Premiere of Kaija Saariaho's La Passion de Simone, starring American soprano Dawn Upshaw. Upshaw has been a stage fixture for more than 25 years: from Daisy in John Harbison's The Great Gatsby, to Mary in John Adams' El Nino, to the Angel in Messiaen's Saint Francois d'Assise.
The performance, held at the Rose Theater at Jazz at Lincoln Center, was presented under the auspices of Mostly Mozart, which seemed like an odd home for Saariaho's lush-yet-challenging music. (Saariaho is this year's Mostly Mozart Composer-in-Residence.) But Saariaho wrote La Passion de Simone for Peter Sellars' New Crowned Hope festival, which celebrated Mozart's 250th birthday in Vienna two years ago, and credits Mozart as a major influence on her work. Sellars directed the premiere; he was also on hand for this performance.
The setup reminded me of the Amsterdam production of Saint Francois, with the orchestra (in this case the formidable City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, led by Ensemble Intercontemporain director Susanna Malkki in her New York debut) in back, and the singers following cues via monitors. The French libretto, by Amin Malouf, was translated via supertitles. Besides Upshaw, the only other visible performers were Michael Schumacher (in pantomime) and the London Voices, situated in box seats above the stage. Hovering above all was the disembodied voice of Dominique Blanc, speaking the words of the French activist/philosopher Simone Weil.
La Passion de Simone repeats Friday night at 8p and Sunday at 4p; tickets available at the box office.
More pics after the jump.