LOVE FROM AFAR by Kaija Saariaho and Amin Maalouf (Canadian Opera Company). At the Four Seasons Centre (145 Queen West). Runs to February 22. $12-$318. 416-363-8231. See listing. Rating: NNNN
You might not immediately grasp Kaija Saariaho's contemporary opera Love From Afar, but if you let yourself go, I guarantee you'll fall under its spell. In this Canadian Opera Company production, the music and visuals - if not the drama - are immersive.
It helps to not think too much about the plot, which is set in 12th-century Aquitaine and ancient Tripoli and concerns troubadour Jaufré Rudel (Russell Braun) and countess Clémence (Erin Wall), who both hear about the other from a pilgrim (Krisztina Szabò), who acts as a go-between.
As the characters sing (usually alone) of idealized love, Saariaho's score glistens and shimmers with complex colours that evoke other realms and times, beautifully realized by Johannes Debus and the COC Orchestra.
Director Daniele Finzi Pasca and a strong design team create imagery to match the score, using shadow puppetry, billowing fabric and screens that allow images to be projected on them yet also hint at the psychological depths behind them.
What's most innovative about this production, however, is how Finzi Pasca lets each character be represented by three performers, who do things like soar through the air or whirl around like dervishes. This movement goes beyond acrobatics to suggest something spiritual and profound - and helps pass the time in a work that could be monotonous.
Not that there's anything dull about the singers, who draw on every colour in their voices to express their characters' inner lives. They may not be singing traditional arias about love, but their voices will affect you all the same.