PARIS (AP) _ Kaija Saariaho says her tale of motherhood in wartime, ``Adriana Mater,'' premiering at Paris' Bastille Opera on Thursday, is the most dramatic work of her career _ and one of her most emotional.
While she was composing it and reflecting on what it means to bear children, her own mother died.
Just as she began work on the score, the United States invaded Iraq. While ``Adriana Mater'' is a timeless fable, it's also grounded in modern realities. It was important to Saariaho to use her art to confront the world's problems, not to escape.
``Many painful things were happening, and I'm sure they are somehow found in the music,'' the Finnish composer told The Associated Press. ``When the subject is around us all the time and is very dark, I think the music needs to reflect this atmosphere.''
``Adriana Mater'' is Saariaho's second opera. Her first, ``L'Amour de Loin,'' a story of love across borders, debuted at the Salzburg Festival in 2000 and was one of the most acclaimed premieres of recent years.
Generally, 53-year-old Saariaho dislikes opera. Her orchestral and chamber music _ shimmering, dreamlike and haunting, with exotic textures and electronic touches _ often has an intimate feel. She is unimpressed by the bombast and diva-worship of the opera world.
``What is interesting in opera? Certainly not the high notes and the glamour surrounding the star singers,'' she said. ``I would just like to concentrate on the music, and then define opera as a fantastic ... meeting point with different arts.''
Like ``L'Amour de Loin,'' ``Adriana Mater'' is directed by American Peter Sellars and has a libretto by Lebanese-born Amin Maalouf, a novelist and longtime war correspondent. The conductor is Esa-Pekka Salonen, the music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, who first worked with Saariaho when they were music students in Finland in the 1970s.
One challenge of the production was filling up the vast space of the modern Bastille Opera with a story that has only four characters, including Adriana (Patricia Bardon) and her son Yonas (Gordon Gietz). The choir is offstage, and their sound is relayed with amplifiers that transform the hall into a reverberation chamber.
``I think that having a small number of characters helps me concentrate feeling, and intrigue,'' Maalouf said. ``You can find conflict in anyone's heart. You don't need a crowd.''
In the opera, when Adriana's son is a young man, his father _ and her rapist _ returns to town once the war is over. The son's dilemma is whether to avenge the rape.
The starting points for the story came from Saariaho's experience of pregnancy, and Maalouf's memories of war, abroad and in his homeland. Though it has no specific location, Maalouf said he may have had the former Yugoslavia at the back of his mind.
It is crucial to the story's message that Adriana and her rapist come from the same side of the war.
``For me, it was important to say that the enemy is not necessarily on the other side,'' Maalouf said. ``The line that divides humane behavior and barbaric behavior splits through each civilization, and maybe every person.
``I didn't want to give the impression that all evil comes from `the other,''' he said. ``That is an idea that spreads fear.''