La Passion de Simone

70 min



14 November 2013


Melos-​Ethos Festival, Bratislava

“To know how to listen to silence…
To hold one’s attention towards the absence of noise…” 

Simone Weil

La Passion de Simone tells a story without attempting to look like an opera. Instead, it contains all the elements of an imaginary, collective form of music theatre: a woman, who we know nothing about except that she is our contemporary, meditates on the life of Simone Weil (1909 – 1943) and asks herself what she can learn from this “luminous trajectory” of a philosopher and activist who, without any concession, strove to experience the oppression and violence suffered by her fellow human beings, to understand and fight it better.

This monologue is haunted by the thinking voice of Simone Weil herself – absent/​present in the form of an actress – and by a vocal ensemble of four people who are “the others” in the broadest sense, past and present victims and witnesses of human oppression. Present is also a chamber orchestra that accompanies these tableaux and meditations in the manner of an interior landscape. All these performers are brought together into a single space, not to illustrate a biography, but “to retrace in thought the path an agony”. We are not invited to be spectators of a drama, but to participate in an agnostic prayer concerning our collective memory and values, as crystallized by the intransigence and thirst for the absolute of an extraordinary individual. Music proves to be a theater of the mind.

This production, revived on a regular basis since 2013 in a site-​specific redesign for each venue, is at the origin of the chamber version of the work, created by the composer for an ensemble of 19 instrumentalists. The score of this version is published by Chester Music.

Co-​produced by La Chambre aux Echos, Music Centre Slovakia and Festival de Saint-​Denis, with support from Adami and Spedidam.

Creative Team

Concept and Realization

La Chambre aux échos

on the work by

Kaija Saariaho & Amin Maalouf

Stage Direction & Video

Aleksi Barrière 

Musical Direction

Clément Mao-​Takacs

Stage Design

Pauline Squelbut

Lighting and Co-​Stage Design

Étienne Exbrayat


Liisa Nieminen

Premiere ensemble

Secession Orchestra (19 players)

Current Cast

Solo Soprano

Sayuri Araida


Isabelle Seleskovitch

Vocal ensemble, soprano

Faustine de Monès

Vocal ensemble, mezzosoprano

Marianne Seleskovitch

Vocal ensemble, tenor

Johan Viau

Vocal ensemble, baritone

Johannes Linneballe


14 November 2013

Melos-​Ethos Festival, Bratislava

17 May 2014

KODY Festival, Lublin

27 May 2014

Festival de Saint-​Denis

14 November 2014

Comédie de Clermont /​Centre Lyrique Clermont-​Auvergne

28 January 2016

NJORD Biennale, Copenhagen
with Avanti! Chamber Orchestra

19 – 20 November 2016

Gerald W Lynch Theatre, NYC
with ICE Ensemble and Mannes

31 May 2017

Bergen International Festival
with BIT20 Ensemble

7 – 8 October 2018

Opéra Angers-​Nantes
with the ONPL

10 March 2019

Tampere-​Talo, Finland
with Avanti! Chamber Orchestra

29 – 30 December 2022

Musiikkitalo, Helsinki
with Avanti! Chamber Orchestra


2016 (New York)

“I had the joy of attending in New York, in November 2016, a new production of La Passion de Simone, first performed ten years earlier in Vienna. Remarkably served — in the staging, in the musical direction, as in the interpretation — by a young, dedicated, talented and inventive team, this performance was, for all those lucky enough to attend, a moment of aesthetic pleasure as much as a poignant meditation on History, on the present times, and on the human condition in general.”

Amin Maalouf, librettist of La Passion de Simone

2016 (New York)

“A poignant production.”

The Economist

2022 (Helsinki)

“The fusion of text, music and staging constitutes a multimodal hall of mirrors, where ideas and gestures are extended seamlessly from one sensory realm to the next as harmonic progressions carry over to permutations in imagery and rhythmic cells generate onstage pacing and movement. In this way, the fundamental ambiguity of the libretto becomes implanted through ravishing synaesthesia, to a gripping effect. (…)

Reaching into the auditorium and beyond into the foyer, Barrière’s stage setup in conceived with translucence (…). The visual narrative is realized through subtly choreographed movement, enhanced by Étienne Exbrayat’s ingenious lighting design and Liisa Nieminen’s clear-​cut costumes, with additional commentary from processed video images, wrought out of archival footage and contemporary material, proving the core drama with extended societal commentary.

The solo part was superbly sung by Sayuri Araida, whose stage presence was equally compelling, as was that of the actor Isabelle Seleskovitch’s. Joined by the marvellous vocal quartet of La Chambre aux échos, soprano Faustine de Monès, mezzo-​soprano Marianne Seleskovitch, tenor Johan Viau and baritone Johannes Linneballe, Saariaho’s vocal writing was in good hands throughout the evening.

Under Mao-Takacs’s ever-​sensitive direction, the score was unraveled in admirable transparency of texture and absorbingly idiomatic pacing. The instrumental fabric was given in compelling virtuosity by the members of Avanti!, providing the orchestral writing with exquisite nuance and colour. (…)

Given in two fully-​packed evenings, the production was awash with contemporary music theatre in its most engaging and invigorating guises; a milestone event in Helsinki.”

Jari Juhani Kallio, Adventures in Music

2017 (Bergen)

“The elements are tremendously well matched to each other, into a touching, shaking and thoughtful whole. (…) This is a show that makes the Festival important, and that is rare to find anywhere, both in terms of its essential content and of its musical and theatrical qualities.”

Bodil Maroni Jensen, Klassisk Musikkmagasin

2022 (Helsinki)

“Aleksi Barrière’s staging is elegant and moves from the individual to the collective. (…) As a whole the work rejects the univocal frame that is nowadays all too common. It doesn’t try to harness interpretations but offers them to us. (…)

I enjoyed the vocal expression of the solo soprano Sayuri Araida, artful and devoid of egotism. The interplay between her part and the actress Isabelle Seleskovitch spoke to me. The vocal quartet sang beautifully and Avanti!, conducted by Clément Mao-​Takacs, resonated with rich sounds.

The stage solution of things occurring simultaneously on multiple levels was effective. Even though recognizable imagery of the black and white videos for instance of a far-​right demonstration sometimes broke the meditative atmosphere, it didn’t disturb me. The videos function at the interface between the inside and the outside, as an uncommented mindscape/​landscape growing from the associations of the music.

Barrière stated before the performance that we are to train our imagination and asked whether it was time for us to think for ourselves.

This impressive, haunting La Passion de Simone forces us to do just that.”

Sonja Saarikoski, Helsingin Sanomat

2022 (Helsinki)

“One novelty was the reduction of the orchestra to chamber proportions, an effective idea. The other was Aleksi Barrière’s beautiful staging, which operated within a minimalistic physical language. (…) The performer of the main part, Sayuri Araida, was as convincing vocally as theatrically, as she inhabited every detail of Barrière’s staging. The same can be said about the vocal quartet, an international group of soloists appearing on stage with everyday naturalness, somewhere between additional spectators and objects of identifications. The musical direction was in the confident hands of Clément Mao-​Takacs, who also had a substantial role in the creation of the chamber version of this Passion. The orchestra was the best possible for this mission, meaning Avanti!, who are used to such demanding avant-​garde works.”

Eero Tarasti, Amfion

2014 (Clermont-​Ferrand)

“Clément Mao-​Takacs mastered his subject superlatively at the helm of the instrumental ensemble Secession Orchestra (…) Supported by Étienne Exbrayat’s equally minimalist lighting, Aleksi Barrière’s stripped-​down, exacting staging conveyed the intimacy of the libretto, tinged with subtle spirituality.”

Roland Duclos, forumopera​.com

2014 (Clermont-​Ferrand)

“Aleksi Barrière, like Peter Sellars (the Passion’s first director), seems to want to integrate the theatrical performance with the life of the spectator: the decompartmentalization between what happens on stage and what happens in the audience, through the principle of visible backstage, offers the perfect setting for the evocation of Simone Weil, canonized by this work.”

Christophe Dilys, Classicagenda

2014 (Saint-​Denis)

“Secession Orchestra was under the concentrated and attentive direction of Clément Mao-​Takacs (…) The young director Aleksi Barrière (…), in collaboration with Pauline Squelbut, devised an effective set-​up. (…) Everything is treated with sobriety, respecting a certain hieratic style, in order to compose tableaux that suggest and concentrate emotion.”

Rémy Louis, Diapason

2014 (Saint-​Denis)

“… a jewel box of timbres chiseled by conductor Clément Mao-​Takacs and his Secession Orchestra (…) Aleksi Barrière’s staging is just as rigorous and sparing (…) One leaves this Simone Passion galvanized and feeling strangely light.

Éric Dahan, Libération

2014 (Saint-​Denis)

“The performance at the Basilique de Saint-​Denis, as a prelude to the annual Festival, is more than just a staging, it’s a full production. (…) Careful lighting of the architectural environment and background projections (…) add to an intelligent visualization. Discreet but effective acting confirms the impression of a ritual unfolding, punctuated by superb freeze-​frames. (…) The twenty or so soloists of the Secession Orchestra, under the precise and attentive direction of Clément Mao-​Takacs, illuminate a score that is more than endearing.”

Jean-​Pierre Robert, L’éducation musicale

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