Kaija Saariaho’s Acclaimed Contemporary Opera “L’Amour de Loin” Comes to “Great Performances at the Met” Sunday, April 2 at 12 p.m. on PBS

Kaija Saariaho’s L’Amour de Loin (“Love From Afar”), one of the most highly praised operas of recent years, airs on Great Performances at the Met Sunday, April 2 at 12 p.m. on PBS (check local listings). (In New York, THIRTEEN will air the opera at 12:30 p.m.)

The production, with a libretto by Amin Maalouf, had its Met premiere earlier this season in a production directed by Robert Lepage and conducted by Susanna Mälkki in her Met debut. Lepage’s staging, which uses thousands of LED lights to create the sea that separates the opera’s distant lovers, is a co-production with L’Opéra de Québec, where it premiered to accolades in the summer of 2015.

Susanna Phillips stars as Clémence, the Countess of Tripoli, opposite Eric Owens as Jaufré Rudel, a troubadour on a quest to find his perfect love, and Tamara Mumford as the Pilgrim who carries messages back and forth between them.

Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho’s breakthrough opera has been described by the New York Times as “transfixing…a lushly beautiful score.” Commissioned by the Salzburg Festival, it was first seen in 2000.

One of the most discussed, praised, and successful of recent operas, L’Amour de Loin is a seductively beautiful tale of love’s unfathomable nature. The idea of impossible love was central to the explosion of poetry in Europe in the 12th century, and it has remained prominent in all the arts ever since. Similarly, death, for the poetic soul, is both an end and a culmination, an idea that the medium of opera has explored with unique insight throughout its history. L’Amour de Loin explores this same artistic territory in a way that is sensitive to both the sources of the medieval legend on which it is based and to the contemporary ear.

The opera takes place during the mid–12th century, the time of the historical Jaufré Rudel, a poet and troubadour. It is set in the Aquitaine region of France, on the Mediterranean Sea, and in the Crusader state of Tripoli in what is now Lebanon. The personal journey that Rudel takes across the sea recalls the cultural journey of Western Europeans to the East in the time of the Crusades: it held a destructive aspect (war) but also a creative aspect (the fluorescence of the arts and learning itself in 12th-century Europe, which owed much to contact with the refined cultures of the eastern Mediterranean).

Critics praised the Met’s production. “The bass-baritone Eric Owens, in one of his finest Met roles, makes an achingly vulnerable Jaufré…,” observed The New York Times. “The mezzo-soprano Tamara Mumford brings mellow sound and calm dignity to the role of the pilgrim… The soprano Susanna Phillips looks and sounds radiant as Clémence… The production is lucky to have the impressive Ms. Mälkki conducting.”

The New York Observer noted “The visual highlight of the evening, and indeed one of the most breathtaking sequences I’ve ever witnessed in an opera house, is Lepage’s depiction of a storm across the ocean, an ideal visual counterpart to Saariaho’s lurching brass fanfares.”

The Huffington Post found it “a captivating night of opera,” while The Wall Street Journal declared “…this vivid, enormously affecting production, conceived by Robert Lepage, is a landmark in itself, delving into the profound theatricality beyond the opera’s dreamy surface.”

Soprano Deborah Voigt hosts the broadcast.

Production: Robert Lepage. Associate Director: Sybille Wilson. Set and Costume Designers: Michael Curry. Lighting Designer: Kevin Adams. Lightscape Image Designer: Lionel Arnould. Sound Designer: Mark Grey.

L’Amour de Loin was originally seen live in movie theaters on December 10 as part of the groundbreaking The Met: Live in HD series, which transmits live performances to more than 2,000 movie theaters and performing arts centers in over 70 countries around the world. The Live in HD series has reached a record-breaking 22 million viewers since its inception in 2006.

Great Performances at the Met is a presentation of THIRTEEN Productions LLC for WNET, one of America’s most prolific and respected public media providers.