Soprano Elizabeth Futral gave conductor John Kennedy a heartfelt embrace at the curtain call for her solo performance in the Lincoln Center Festival premiere run of ÉMILIE, an opera by composer Kaija Saariaho and librettist Amin Maalouf.
With a text culled from letters, notes and other documents, Futral sings the part of Émilie du Châtelet, a figure of the French Enlightenment about whom I now know about 100 percent more than I knew before. She is a fascinating figure, accomplished in physics, philosophy, mathematics, and astronomy, advocate of pleasure and lover of both Voltaire and the poet Saint-Lambert. In the opera, she ruminates upon the social disapprobations and physical dangers of pregnancy, even while losing herself in a seemingly irrepressible stream of scientific insight and intellectual recapitulation.
The opera as performed is, if anything, about the nature of consciousness and its fragmentation, the manner in which ideas come into focus and retreat again into the memory, including the earliest stirrings of consciousness after birth and the final retreat at the point of death. Neal Wilkinson’s set is a marvel of suspended scrims, sharp and angled like shards of glass, upon which emerge images that submerge the singer in a cubist rendition of her own words and thoughts. Directed by Marianne Weems, this is a production that, although outwardly static, is animated by inner movement and activity, psychic, emotional, intellectual and in its own way spiritual.
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