Contemporary opera makes use of multimedia experiences and equipment, using recordings and lighting to add facets to the live performance. Composer Luca Francesconi has reimagined the two main characters from Dangerous Liaisons, Valmont and the Marquise, in a grubby post-apocalyptic level of hell. The two are former lovers who amuse themselves by seducing and corrupting others for sport. They think they are far above any sentimental attachments of love and glorify the baseness of sex. Now they are aging and decaying, and play out scenes aping their previous victims, goading each other into further depravity.
Sung in English, there is a pace in current writing that is against the rhythm of natural speech, and so spaces between words are altered, and sometimes words are bunched up together. This brings out different meanings, and adds to the sense of chaos and madness. The score requires much of the singers, bringing them to the edge of their range. Kirstin Chavez as the Marquise manages to bring innate poise into an ugly role, and Leigh Melrose as Valmont has many gross things to do while he sings from the soul of this beast of a character.
The music is provided live by top-notch orchestra the London Sinfonietta. Despite all the discord on stage as the Marquise and Valmont find that their extremity leads them to grizzly death, the music is strangely beautiful and atmospheric, almost otherworldly. Francesconi is a well-known and internationally regarded composer and conductor, and yet this opera is his London debut. The stage splits the audience in two, a broken bridge over the orchestra pit. Reactions also seem to be split, with some of the audience finding it all just too offensive and too far away from actual singing. It’s both beautiful and ugly.
Quartett is at the Linbury Studio Theatre, Royal Opera House until 28th June 2014, for further information or to book visit here.