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15.4.06

Esa-Pekka Salonen on Adriana Mater

With great interest, I followed the troubled delivery of Kaija Saariaho's second opera in Paris earlier this month. After a strike cancelled the premiere on March 30, the Opéra national de Paris finally performed Adriana Mater, to mixed critical reception. In an article (Salonen Bemoans Strikes, Critics; Welcomes Cindy Crawford's Bra, April 14) for Bloomberg News, Shirley Apthorp picks the brain of the production's conductor, Esa-Pekka Salonen:

Paris's St. Germain basks in spring sunshine on a day when, just two blocks west, rioting students have overturned a car and beaten up the driver. As riot police arrive, sirens blazing, lunchers stretch their legs at pavement tables and tip their faces to the sun. Esa-Pekka Salonen arrives at Les Deux Magots, late and apologetic. This cafe was Jean-Paul Sartre and Ernest Hemingway's favorite hangout, and he recalls their habits with a touch of glee, adding sadly that he feels the place has lost its bohemian charm. [...]

Salonen is in Paris to conduct the world premiere of Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho's second opera, "Adriana Mater," a complex work about rape and violence in a war-torn community. The first performance, scheduled for March 30, was canceled at the last minute when workers at the Opera de Paris's Bastille theater called a strike. Gerard Mortier, the director of the Opera de Paris, called Salonen with the news just as he was finishing lunch. "I was just about to have my coffee and go," he says. "Then Mortier was on the phone saying, 'Well, there's no show tonight.' So I ordered a bottle of wine."

The second performance went ahead. Despite an enthusiastic response from the public, the French press response was not glowing. "Everything is political in Paris," Salonen says. "To damn this opera is to take a swipe at Mortier. And here you had a Lebanese librettist, a Finnish composer and an American director coming to Paris to do an opera at the country's national house . . ." Salonen trails into silence with an exasperated sigh and turns his attention to his coffee for a moment.
It's very entertaining reading.

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