Posts Tagged ‘Luca Francesconi’

An Aural-Oral Assault

In Classical Music, Opera, Review on June 22, 2014 at 3:57 pm

Review – Quartett (Linbury Theatre, Saturday 21 June 2014)

Marquise de Merteuil – Angelica Voje
Marquis de Valmont – Mark Stone

Director – John Fulljames
Set & Costume Designs – Soutra Gilmour
Film Designs – Ravi Deepres
Lighting Design – Bruno Poet
Sound Design – Sound Intermedia
Computer Music Design – Serge le Mouton

London Sinfonietta

Andrew Gourlay (Conductor)

There is no denying that Luca Francesconi’s Quartett is a remarkable work.

Perhaps inadvertently, the Royal Opera House has created a French Revolutionary parallel with their recent and most excellent Carmélites.

And while both operas make an impact in very different ways, personally whether the impact of Quartett is as noteworthy or long lasting as that of Carmelites is debatable.

In the programme, the composer wrote that the music is “consistent” and that he used “expressive tensions” rather than styles. There was no denying that the music was never anything but tense – almost unbearably so and all the time. However the reliance on these tensions rather than a sense of structure (or form) doe question whether Francesconi could write anything longer than a single act opera.

In Quartett, Franesconi combined live music expertly played it must be said by the London Sinfonietta under the skillful baton of Andrew Gourlay, with both pre-recorded sounds and music. The players in the pit displayed a virtuosity that underlines why it is the leading contemporary music ensemble in Europe today.

The singers, Angelica Voje and Mark Stone also acquitted themselves brilliantly. Neither gave any sense that they were anything else but comfortable and confident in this music. Ms Voje however had the slight edge, finding a level of emotional delivery of words and music that sometimes eluded Stone. Halfway through the performance I did suddenly think how I would want to see Ms Voje in Handel. She has a bright, gleaming and flexible soprano of impressive range, and I was pleasantly surprised to then see has in fact sung Handel with ETO. I shall be looking out for her in future.

Perhaps unwisely, Francesconi also wrote the libretto. Taking as his starting point Heiner Müller’s play of the same title which was in turn ‘freely inspired’ by de Laclos’ Les Liaisons Dangereuses, it didn’t work. He had removed any sense of humanity from the two protagonists. Without it, it becomes difficult – if not impossible – to understand why they are as they are. And while the language used was simple, it felt unwieldy – almost like an unfinished draft.

It might have been intentional, but with both words and music equally relentless and brutal all the time, it felt that Francesconi hadn’t written so much an opera than a complete assault on the senses.

On stage itself, James Fulljames’ vision was simple yet compelling. I didn’t realize that the Linbury had the facility to split the audience on either side of the stage and here it worked. More than feeling like the voyeurs that the composer intended, it was more like watching a gladiatorial fight of some kind.

I am not sure that Deepres’ video projections added anything. Projected as they were on lengths of hanging fabric, they were unclear and only offered the slightest respite from what was happening on the gangway cum stage.

By the end, Francesconi’s Quartett had delivered – hammer blow by hammer blow -an emotional numbness rather than anything else. Any emotional colour – as found in de Laclos original work – had been shorn from the retelling of a classical tale of love and revenge and the music bludgeoned rather than heightened the senses.

But in a perverse way, despite all of this, it made for a compelling evening.

New operas are vital if the art form is to survive. Most recently we had Julian Anderson’s flawed The Thebans, and before that Benjamin’s Written on Skin and Anna Nicole by Turnage.

Francesconi’s overtly intellectual approach is to be lauded. Francesconi is quoted as saying “It is not easy to compose an opera today. It is an incredibly rich form, but we have to completely change our definition. When we say ‘opera’ we normally think of the 19th century. For me … it is a fantastic multimedia machine.”

H has been commissioned by the Royal Opera House to write a new work for 2020. It will be interesting to see what comes of this because at the end I did wonder if his approach was at the expense of a truly musical and emotional experience.


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