May 2, 2023
SAN FRANCISCO, CA—On June 8, 10 & 11, 2023, Music Director Esa-Pekka Salonen and the San Francisco Symphony are joined by acclaimed director Peter Sellars for a new staged production of Kaija Saariaho’s Adriana Mater, an intensely moving work to a libretto of Amin Maalouf, which explores the relationship between a mother and her son as they navigate a world rumbling with the threat of violence. These performances feature mezzo-soprano Fleur Barron in the title role, soprano Axelle Fanyo as Adriana’s sister Refka, tenor Nicholas Phan as Adriana’s son Yonas, baritone Christopher Purves as Tsargo, and the San Francisco Symphony Chorus. Barron and Fanyo make their Orchestral Series debuts with these performances.
Kaija Saariaho dedicated Adriana Mater to Sellars, who directed the world premiere performances at Opéra Bastille in Paris in 2006, which Salonen also conducted. “Adriana Mater was Kaija’s second opera after the huge success of her first one, L'Amour de Loin, which was an allegorical love story, quite static in the best sense of the word,” said Salonen. “In Adriana, Kaija decided to go for drama. It's a very stark, violent story about a wartime rape, motherhood, and dealing with the past that affect several generations.”
“One of Kaija Saariaho’s most powerful works, her second opera Adriana Mater is waiting to be heard with fresh ears in a society now sharply attuned to issues of violence against women and the human costs of raising children in times of war,” said Sellars. “With a wise, heartbreaking, prescient, and revelatory libretto by the great novelist Amin Maalouf, Kaija’s eloquent opera speaks with the clarity, force, and humanity that our world is searching for.”
These performances are Sellars’ second collaboration with Salonen and the Symphony as part of a four-year partnership that began in June 2022 with performances of Igor Stravinsky’s Oedipus rex and Symphony of Psalms. In June 2024, Sellars directs the San Francisco Symphony’s first performances of Arnold Schoenberg’s haunting one-act monodrama Erwartung featuring soprano Mary Elizabeth Williams in her Orchestral Series debut.
Adriana Mater Brief Synopsis
Kaija Saariaho’s Adriana Mater is set in a country at war in the present day. Adriana is raped by Tsargo, a man from her local community, and falls pregnant. She has a son—Yonas—and brings him up, tormented by whether his behavior will be determined by the blood of his rapist father, or by herself—his innocent mother. When Yonas learns the truth of his conception he vows to kill his father. The moment of truth comes when Tsargo eventually returns to town at the end of the war.
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