Émilie (opera)

Monodrama by Kaija Saariaho
LibrettistAmin Maalouf
Based onlife and writings of Émilie du Châtelet
1 March 2010 (2010-03-01)

Émilie is an opera – specifically a 9-scene, 75-minute monodrama for soprano – by Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho to a libretto by Amin Maalouf. It was written in 2008.[1][2] Based on the life and writings of Marquise Émilie du Châtelet (1706–1749),[3] the work premiered at the Opéra de Lyon, France, on 1 March 2010, with Finnish soprano Karita Mattila, its dedicatee, in the title role. It recounts the achievements of this mathematician, physicist, and mistress of Voltaire: the first woman to establish an international scientific reputation, with pioneering work in the study of fire.

The opera Émilíe is based on the actual biography of Émilie du Châtelet, an 18th-century French intellectual in her own right and the mistress of the French philosopher Voltaire. She had a child by a later lover, and the childbirth led to her death.[4] In the plot of the opera, her character's arias are linked to the birth of the child and of her significant scholarship. The soprano soloist is seen in character pregnant and penning new ideas as the opera begins.

The subject of the work depicted in the opera was Éléments de la philosophie de Newton (1738) by Voltaire and Châtelet that helped to popularize the theories and thought of Isaac Newton.[5]

The context of women characters and roles in operas from the 17th century to the present rarely address their role as scientists or scholars, not to mention childbirth, making this composition and performance an expansion of the genre as studied in the field of new musicology.[improper synthesis?] Émilie is one of three "female-centered operas" by Saariaho exhibiting a sonic world that feminist musicologist Susan McClary characterizes as "a 'sensual version of modernism', one in which 'smoldering intensities' of desire find voice."[6][clarification needed]

Since Châtelet was actually tutored in mathematics by leading European scholars and her exceptional skills were thought to influence Voltaire's work,[5] the scenery in the 2008 Opera de Lyon production of the opera featured images of mathematical equations as significant aspects of the set and scenery for the monodrama.

One reviewer described it in 2010 as a "blue-stocking monodrama about the tension between intellect and nature."[7] When it came to the Spoleto Festival USA in 2011, James R. Oestreich in The New York Times characterized the title part as "a tour de force for soprano, some 75 minutes of almost continuous vocalization: speech, elevated speech and soaring melodic arcs, some with electronic voice processing to produce ghostly duets."[8] In 2012, a reviewer who attended a performance at the Lincoln Center Festival hailed the opera's "triumphant New York debut".[9]

Billed as the third opera by Saariaho, Émilie is more accurately a sister-piece to the oratorio La Passion de Simone (2006).[7]

In 2020, the opera was performed at the Peabody Conservatory with Australian conductor Leonard Weiss, led by soprano Elizabeth Futral, who premiered the role at Spoleto in 2011.[8][10]



  1. ^ Émilie at Sikorski[dead link]
  2. ^ "News Section". Tempo. 64 (252): 115–117. 2010. doi:10.1017/s0040298210000239. JSTOR 40794473.
  3. ^ Émilie at Wise Music Classical: synopsis, premiere information
  4. ^ "Women in Science | Biographies | Marquise Du Châtelet". womeninscience.history.msu.edu. Retrieved 2017-11-17.
  5. ^ a b Detlefsen, Karen (13 June 2014). "Émilie du Châtelet". In Zalta, Edward N. (ed.). Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2016 ed.). Metaphysics Research Lab, Stanford University.
  6. ^ Ross, Alex (2013-04-22). "Even the Score". The New Yorker. Retrieved 2017-11-17.
  7. ^ a b Anna Picard (2010-03-07). "Émilie, Opéra National de Lyon". The Independent. Archived from the original on 2022-05-07. Retrieved 2020-12-01.
  8. ^ a b Oestreich, James R. (5 June 2011). "A Mistress of Voltaire, Set to Video". The New York Times. Retrieved 1 December 2020.
  9. ^ Marion Lignana Rosenberg (20 July 2012). "Saariaho's Émilie makes triumphant New York debut at Lincoln Center Festival". theclassicalreview.com. Retrieved 1 December 2020.
  10. ^ Leonard Weiss (16 June 2020). "A Year with Marin Alsop". Limelight. Retrieved 6 December 2022.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]