Review: Love from Afar (Canadian Opera Company)

COC’s romantic Love From Afar plays at the Four Seasons Centre in Toronto

The Canadian Opera Company’s production of Love from Afar was a decadent feast for the eyes, rich with highly evocative contemporary music. This 21st century opera was written by Kaija Saariaho of Finland and is the COC’s first mainstage production written by a female composer. The opera has received a great deal of critical acclaim and has quickly become one the most performed operatic works of this century.

The COC’s production is directed by Daniele Finzi Pasca, who is most known for his direction of the Cirque du Soleil production Corteo and the closing ceremonies of the 2006 Torino Olympic Games. His background in this type of spectacular direction was very evident in this production.

The use of aerial acrobatics was one of the most visually arresting and stylish features of the production. Acrobatics on the stage, often accompanied by the use of flowing, colourful pieces of fabric, were also used throughout the show.

The acrobats represented the spiritual or symbolic selves of the three characters in the piece.  The gorgeous costumes and magnificent set were also of vital importance to the visual magic and elegance of this piece. This was certainly one of the most visually captivating productions I have ever seen.

I was unfamiliar with the music of Kaija Saariaho prior to seeing this opera but I will definitely familiarize myself with her work now. From the first strains of the overture she managed to draw the listener into a world that was fantastical, idyllic, and foreboding; brilliantly capturing the themes of the opera. The story is set in medieval times and contemporary harmonies were artfully interwoven with medieval melodic motifs and flavour.

This production also featured an all-Canadian cast and it was inspiring to see and hear the level of talent this country has to offer. The renowned Russell Braun’s delightfully robust baritone voice is always a pleasure. His vocal talent is certainly matched by his dramatic flair and graceful command of stage movement.

Soprano Erin Wall, in addition to having a colourful and nuanced tone, also has remarkable agility. She executed some truly amazing pianissimos which remained light and free while reaching every corner of the venue. Achieving this effect is certainly not as easy as she made it sound.

Mezzo-Soprano Krisztina Szabó has a remarkable ability to manipulate the colour and timbre of her voice and I especially appreciated the chesty edge she made use of in her particularly low pitches.

From my perspective, the story was the weakest aspect of this production. Admittedly this is based largely on personal bias. I always have a hard time buying the profound love between two people who have just laid eyes on each other, which is a feature of many operas.

In this work, the audience is asked to buy into the love between two people who have never actually met and have only heard about one another via the tales of a mysterious pilgrim. This was a pretty tough sell for me; I guess I’m just not that kind of romantic.

My companion felt that the story lacked action but he was so enamoured by the astonishing beauty of the artistic direction that issues with the narrative became trivial. I think this would likely be the experience of many attendees of this show. I cannot praise the talent of the composer, director, singers, orchestra and acrobats enough; I walked out of the theatre wishing I had a photographic memory.

– Love from Afar is playing at Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts (145 Queen St. W.) until February 22, 2012.
– Performance dates and times are:

  • Sat. February 4, 2012 at 4:30 p.m.
  • Wed. February 8, 2012 at 7:30 p.m.
  • Fri. February 10, 2012 at 7:30 p.m.
  • Sun. February 12, 2012 at 2 p.m.
  • Tues. February 14, 2012 at 7:30 p.m.
  • Sat. February 18, 2012 at 7:30 p.m.
  • Wed. February 22, 2012 at 7:30 p.m.
– Ticket prices range from $45 – $318. Patrons under 30 years of age can purchase tickets for $22. Standing room and rush tickets go on sale at 11:00 am on the day of the performance. Standing room tickets are $12.00, rush tickets are $22.00
– Tickets are available online, or through the box office at 416-363-8231
Photo of Russell Braun by Michael Cooper

One thought on “Review: Love from Afar (Canadian Opera Company)”

  1. The two distant lovers having never met
    Symbolically represented
    Our anticipation and yearning
    Dream for the ideal love.
    The pining for being loved and
    The ability to love that imagined
    Lover. This to me was the basic essence

    Of this remarkable opera..

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