An Entertaining Provocation: Francesconi’s Quartett Arrives at the Liceu

SpainSpain Francesconi, Quartett: Orchestra of the Gran Teatre del Liceu / Peter Rundel (conductor), Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona, 3.3.2017. (JMI)

Quartett © A. Bofill


Marquise de Merteuil – Allison Cook
Vicomte de Valmont – Robin Adams


Direction – Alex Ollé (La Fura dels Baus)
Sets – Alfons Flores
Costumes – Lluc Castells
Lighting – Marco Filibeck
Videos – Franc Aleu

The composer Luca Francesconi (Milan 1956), a disciple Stockhausen among others, has written several operas. The best known among them is Quartett, but I should also mention Atopia, which was premiered in Madrid in 2012. Quartett had its premiere in Milan’s La Scala in 2011, and it is that production which is now being presented at the Liceu.

The libretto is based on the play of the same title by Heiner Müller, which was itself based on the famous French novel Les Liaisons dangereuses. Musically, this is a modern atonal work, but it doesn’t reach quite the level of quality of other contemporary works such as George Benjamin’s Written on Skin. However, the music is suited to the plot and has some interesting aspects.

Francesconi himself describes the libretto as violent, sexual, blasphemous and without pity. This seems a fairly appropriate definition, since provocation is present from beginning to end in the dialogues of the opera’s only two characters. Quartett may not be a masterpiece, but it certainly captures the attention of the viewer, who is never bored. Unlike one’s experience with some other contemporary operas, time passes rather quickly.

The production by Alex Ollé relates well to the work. There is a small, elevated room right in the middle of the stage, anchored by numerous cables. It represents extremely well the strange, isolated world in which the protagonists live, far removed from any reality. An important part of the production is the projection of excellent videos. The direction is superb and drew outstanding performances from the protagonists.

The conductor, Peter Rundel, is very familiar with contemporary music, and I wonder what might have happened with this opera in less adequate hands than his. Under his baton the Orchestra of Liceu gave a convincing performance of a work in which percussion plays an important role.

The opera offers only two characters on stage, the Marquise de Merteuil and the Vicomte de Valmont; they double throughout the opera in two other parts, Madame de Tourvel and Cecile de Volanges, and so complete the quartet. They are always on stage, and their roles are hugely demanding.

The Marquise de Merteuil was performed by mezzo-soprano Allison Cook, who is an appealing singer and an excellent actress. The Vicomte de Valmont was interpreted by baritone Robin Adams, who faced a tessitura that forced him at moments to the necessary use of falsetto.

José M. Irurzun

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