Kaija Saariaho – Émilie Suite delivers emotionally

Opera is all about emotion. And Kaija Saariaho’s Émilie Suite is an hour of raw emotion compressed into a 20-minute opera. Émilie du Châtelet was a French mathematician and physicist during the Age of Enlightenment. The opera focuses on a single evening as she struggles to complete her translation of Newton’s Principia Mathematica while in the final stages of pregnancy. She’s afraid childbirth will kill her (it did), and the conflict of emotions (love and fear) with scientific logic and order provides the inspiration for Saariaho’s work.

The opera has but a single role, and soprano Karen Vourc’h fills it admirably. Her delivery of Émilie’s inner thoughts is both thrilling and disturbing. If you want pretty arias, look elsewhere. If you want an authentic representation of a soul in crises, Émilie Suite delivers.

Also included on the disc are Terra Memoria, an orchestral work that slowly appears out of the silence (this would be a great choice for an SACD recording), and the Quator Instants. The latter is a work originally written for soprano and piano, recast by Saariaho for soprano and orchestra. The lyricism of the work makes it a logical companion piece to the Émilie Suite.

Marko Letonja leads the Strasbourg Philharmonic Orchestra in sensitive and sure-footed performances of these works. Saariaho’s music is all about the details, and Letonja and the SPO conjure up her delicate soundscapes seemingly at ease. An important addition to Saariaho’s discography.

Kaija Saariaho: Émilie Suite; Quatre Instants; Terra Memoria
Karen Vourc’h; soprano; Orchestra Philharmonique de Starsbourg; Marko Letonja, conductor
Ondine 1255-2

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