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This summer’s American premier at the Santa Fe Opera, “Adriana Mater,” by Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho, is “a woman’s story told by a woman, and . . . looks at war through a woman’s eyes.” It makes the case that in war, there are no good guys; all combatants are “thugs and murderers,” as demonstrated by Adriana’s rape, not by an enemy soldier but one from her own village. The conflict depicted is not between political entities, but between individual and even intimate human beings; and more so, between the good and evil, compassion and aggression within us all.
This is not an easy opera to watch or hear. Saariaho’s music is atonal, strongly dissonant, and haunting, very like the background tracks of the old “Twilight Zone” TV series. Some of Adriana’s, especially her opening aria, is eerily beautiful; but much of the rest is searingly violent, bereft of recognizable melody or harmony. Yet it undeniably evokes the agonizing chaos within and without, and I was drawn almost unwillingly into the story. When Adriana’s son Yonas grows up and learns the truth about his father through gossip, his rage initially falls on his mother and aunt, for lying to him all his life. “When should I have told you, when you were 4, 8, 12?” his mother asks.
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