Adriana Mater reunites composer Kaija Saariaho, librettist Amin Maalouf, and director Peter Sellars, whose L’Amour de loin, was such a success here in 2002. Their new work takes place in an unnamed country at war, and its themes—revenge, forgiveness, and redemption—touch the consciousness in profound ways. The New York Times said of its 2006 Paris premiere, “Saariaho has succeeded in forging a work on an emotional scale only occasionally heard in contemporary opera.”
SCENE 1: Light
Just before the outbreak of war. Adriana relaxes outside her house. When she tries to go in, a drunken young man called Tsargo bars her way. He attempts to engage Adriana in conversation, reminding her that they danced together a year ago. She rebuffs him, and he departs to fall asleep nearby. Refka, Adriana's sister, who has watched all this, rebukes Adriana for speaking to Tsargo. Night falls, and a dream sequence is enacted, though we do not know whether the dreamer is Adriana or Tsargo or both of them. In the dream, Tsargo gets ready to take Adriana dancing, but when she puts her hand on his arm he turns into a bottle, which Adriana drops and breaks. Adriana wakes up laughing both in the dream and in reality. Tsargo also awakens, feeling humiliated, and rushes off uttering threats.
SCENE 2: Darkness
The rumble of war comes, as if echoing Tsargo’s fury. He re-enters as a soldier carrying a gun. He knocks at Adriana's door, but she snubs him as sternly as before. He breaks down the door, and we deduce that he rapes her.
SCENE 3: Two Hearts
Adriana is pregnant. She quarrels with her sister, who reproaches her for deciding to have the child. Refka tells Adriana of the dream she had the previous night, which reflects not only Refka's own anxieties about the child that is to be born, but also the fears of Adriana herself, who wonders who her son will turn out to resemble—Cain or Abel?
SCENE 4: Confessions
Seventeen years later. Yonas, Adriana's son, has just learned that, contrary to what Adriana has always told him, his father did not die heroically, trying to defend Adriana and their son. Yonas is furious, and Adriana explains that she had not meant to tell him the truth until he was old enough to deal with it. Yonas is still angry, especially with his unknown father, whom he swears to kill. The scene ends with another dream where the identity of the dreamer is not clear, and in which we see Yonas throwing off all disguise and slaying his whole family, finally turning his weapon against himself.
SCENE 5: Rages
Refka enters to tell Adriana some news, but comes instead upon Yonas, who upbraids her for having lied to him about his father. Adriana enters and Refka tells her, in Yonas's presence, that Tsargo is back in the country. Yonas charges off vowing to kill him.
SCENE 6: Duel
Yonas meets his father and rebukes him. Tsargo, whose back is to Yonas, doesn't hesitate to admit who he is and what he has done. Yonas announces that he intends to kill him, but not wanting to attack him from behind, asks him to turn round. Tsargo turns slowly, and we see that he is blind. Yonas is taken aback. Unable to keep his vow and kill his father now that he is disabled, he flees.
SCENE 7: Adriana
All four characters are on stage at once, but independently of one another. All are distraught, consumed with anxiety and remorse. Only Adriana and Yonas eventually meet. Yonas asks his mother to forgive him for failing to avenge her. Adriana questions him calmly about what happened, and tells him how before he was born she wondered night and day whether her son would turn out to be a killer like his father. Now she knows the answer: Yonas is her son, sprung from her blood, and not the son of a monster. "We are not avenged, " she tells him. "But we are saved." The gates of Hell can close again.
- Adriana - Monica Groop
- Refka - Pia Freund
- Jonas - Joseph Kaiser
- Tsargo - Matthew Best
- Conductor - Ernest Martinez Izquierdo
- Director - Peter Sellars
- Scenic Designer - George Tsypin
- Costume Designer - Martin Pakledinaz
- Lighting Designer - James F. Ingalls