The fact that a new opera might debut at the Salzburg Festival in Austria is not in itself an unusual occurrence. But in August of the year 2000, the new opera in question was "L'Amour de Loin" or "Distant Love" by the Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho — making it the first opera by a female composer ever to be staged at the prestigious international Festival, and one that opened to rave reviews.
Born in Helsinki in 1952, Saariaho now lives with her husband and children in Paris. She has said that though she loves Helsinki, she's more comfortable in a city where she is not a celebrity. "I'm too well recognized in Finland," says Saariaho. "When I say this to colleagues in America, they think it's fantastic that there is a country where contemporary music composers can be esteemed public personalities."
Speaking of summer-time opera premieres, Richard Wagner's "Die Walküre" had its first performance as part of his "Ring cycle" on today's date in 1876, at Wagner's own theater in Bayreuth, a small town in Southern Germany.
Some early critics thought building a big theater in such an out-of-the-way place was a monumental act of folly, but Wagnerites have been making the midsummer pilgrimage there for over 125 years — despite the lack of air-conditioning in Wagner's theater. Appropriately, it's some of the warmest music from "Die Walküre" — the "Magic Fire" scene that brings the opera to its close.
Music Played in Today's Program
Kaija Saariaho (b. 1952)…à la fuméePetri Alanko, f; Anssi Karttunen, vcl; Los Angeles Philharmonic; Esa- Pekka Salonen, cond.Ondine 804
Richard Wagner (1813-1883)Magic Fire Music, fr Die WalküreCleveland Orchestra; George Szell, cond.CBS/Sony 46286