Operas by Kaija Saariaho

Operas by Kaija Saariaho
Kaija Saariaho, composer and Sofi Oksanen, librettist © Toni Härkönen

Kaija Saariaho truly is one of the most significant composers contributing with her oeuvre to the unique repertoire development in the new millennium. With her stage works she proves over and over again why nowadays we still need music theatre works in an ever changing environment.

Read our overview of her six stage works, starting with the newest.

Innocence (2018) 1 hr 45'

This work will receive its world premiere at the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence in July 3 2021.
The work is a large-scale opera for symphonic forces and a wide-ranging cast and will be sung in several different languages including Finnish, Czech, French, Romanian, Swedish, German, Spanish and Greek. Innocence includes an original libretto by renowned Finnish writer Sofi Oksanen.

This is a deeply moving opera which resonates with current concerns of humanity, it deals with how individuals, smaller groups and our society as a whole tackles recent traumas over time.

Watch a 90 seconds introduction in French with English subtitles:

Discover more stage works by Kaija Saariaho

Only the Sounds Remains (2015) 1 hr 55’
English libretto by Ezra Pound

‘The genuinely intimate work ... gathers full-scale musical richness and powerful thematic resonance.’ (The New York Times, 2018)

The opera sets two classic Nôh plays Always Strong and Feather Mantle for countertenor, bass baritone, small vocal ensemble, seven musicians and live electronics. A delicate music theatre work suitable for a great variety of performance spaces; from opera houses to ware houses.

The premiere production has been released on DVD starring Philip Jaroussky


Emilie (2008) 1 hr 20’
French libretto by Amin Maalouf

‘Textures are dense and rich ... she makes Emilie an alluring and sympathetic figure.’ (The Telegraph, 2010)

This monodrama in 9 scenes offers an intense journey through the life story of Émilie du Châtelet — a life notable for her devotion to math, sciences and intellectual study, and the love and admiration of French philosopher, Voltaire. The libretto by Amin Maalouf is composed in the form of letters to Voltaire, her lover Saint-Lambert and her own inner dialogues. 
With its small symphonic forces Kaija Saariaho's third opera is suitable for many opera houses and venues.

La passion de Simone (2006) 1 hr 15'

'The music itself has strong dramatic effects, such as when whispering, scratchy sounds suddenly open up in sudden stinging light. And when hopelessness takes over, a dense, vicious orchestral fabric provides a synaesthetic experience that no light can penetrate...'

Simone Weil (1909 - 1943), the French philosopher, mystic and political activist is the center of the oratorio for solo soprano, choir, orchestra, and electronics. She spent her brief life fighting against social and economic injustice and spiritual blindness. She fought for clarity, for rights and responsibilities, for moments of truth in herself and in the world. 

The work is available in two versions for symphonic forces and ensemble and has been performed in concert performances as well as staged productions, one of which has been presented numerous times.

View an excerpt of the production by La chambre aux echoes:


Adriana Mater (2005) 2 hr
French libretto by Amin Maalouf

'At its most powerful, opera takes human, religious and political dramas of the past and gives them enduring relevance. Adriana Mater, the new opera by the heralded Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho, borrows its haunting narrative from our own age and shows it to be a story for all time. Its setting is a modern war, modern because it could be happening now... Saariaho succeeded in forging a work on an emotional scale only occasionally heard in contemporary opera. .... [Adriana Mater is] searingly painful in its depiction of humanity.' (The New York Times, 2001).

An opera for big symphonic forces and a small cast (4 soloists), it is a powerful and direct opera in addressing the modern concerns of humanity.

The creational process has been followed in a documentary by Anne Grange 'A birth of an opera'.

L’Amour de loin (2000) 2 hr
French libretto by Amin Maalouf

'L’Amour de loin occupies a theatrical world of its own, the key to which lies in finding a visual aesthetic as precisely textured and imaginatively coloured as Saariaho’s score.' (Financial Times, 2009)

Her first opera was premiered in 2000 at Salzburg Festival and has been produced in a great variety of styles from naturalistic to abstract stagings, combined with a graphic novel, a film visualisation to name just a few and culminating in a production at the New York Metropolitan Opera in season 2016/17 in a mesmerizing production by Robert Lepage.

View the Metropolitan Opera trailer

To find out more about Kaija Saariaho and her work, read the article from Finnish Music Quarterly: On my music and beyond: The world is a mosaic from August 2019.

(Spring 2020)