Argentina Luca Francesconi, Quartett: Soloists and Orchestra of Teatro Colón. Conductor: Brad Lubman, Teatro Colón, Buenos Aires. 19.6.2015. (JSJ)
Marquise de Merteuil: Allison Cook
Vicomte de Valmont: Robin Adams
Director: Álex Ollé (La Fura dels Baus)
Sets: Alfons Flores
Costumes: Lluc Castells
Lighting: Marco Filibeck
Projections: Franc Aleu
Former Teatro Colón director general Pedro Pablo García Caffi made a policy of programming at least one new work in the season and this year he has given us Italian composer Luca Francesconi’s 2011 work Quartett. And not only is it a Colón premiere but one for the Americas – and also it is the original production from La Scala de Milan, with the same principals.
The work is based on the 1782 novel Les Liasons Dangeureuses (Dangerous liaisons) by Francois Choderlos de Laclos, which has also been several times adapted for the theatre and film, the latter perhaps most famously in the 1988 film with Glenn Close, John Malkovich and Michelle Pfeiffer. In Francesconi’s version – he did the libretto in addition to the music – there are just the two main protagonists, Marquise de Merteuil and Vicomte de Valmont, who are ex-lovers. As they meet their interactions, cynical at the outset, become increasingly so as they embark on an increasingly sexual role play with she as he seducing him in the form of his lover, Madame de Tourvel, and later she playing the part of the virgin Volanges, who she suggests he seduces. This all takes place in a room before the French Revolution. Then the final scene plays out in a post-World War III bunker when, each acting as the other, she poisons him.
“Don’t come to the theatre if you are not willing to question what you do and are,” says Francesconi. Well, maybe if that is your approach to theatre – but I daresay an unwillingness to do that was not the reason for people walking out during the course of the production, despite its shortness, lasting continuously for a little under one and half hours. Certainly it was shocking, but also crude, although not explicitly so. And several letters in a local newspaper have questioned why works such as this are ‘experimented’ when so much of the classical repertoire remains un(der)performed.
The production by La Fura dels Baus places the action in a suspended room, to which one arrives at the outset travelling through the clouds to an upper floor (presumably) Paris apartment (with two false starts in this production as the sound failed to start). That music, which is recorded and remarkably emerges from any location of the auditorium, combines with the small live orchestra, capably conducted by Brad Lubman.
With just two principals they need to be good and they were. Both mezzo Allison Cook and baritone Robin Adams are vocally and dramatically strong and meet the demands placed on them, although there is little continuity in the musical line. Although the work is in English, and the singers were amplified, surtitles in English (alongside the Spanish) helped to follow the narrative.
Without doubt this is a powerful work and more easily listenable than others of the current era, and comments overheard also reflected that. A second viewing would have been worthwhile for a fuller appreciation, although whether I would seek it out in the future is another matter.
Jonathan Spencer Jones