In the past few years opera has come off its pedestal and is being taken to the people with the emergence of many newish and smallish touring companies – not to mention the ubiquitous Russian outfits touring to all corners of Europe with productions of mixed quality.
Opera2You is a truly international company based in The Hague and specializes in presenting newly created operas. They take a classic story and set it to existing music by classical composers and with new libretto/recitatives the work is welded into a whole. This formula has proved successful in their La troupe d’Orphée, Dr. Miracle’s Last Illusion and the recent Hamlet.
Les Liaisons Dangereuses is, of course, based on the novel by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos first published 1782 and since then it has been adapted for stage and film many times. This is the first time it has been presented as an opera.
Very much the baby of Serge van Veggel, who not only conceived the piece but also, along with Stefano Simone Pintor, wrote the libretto working with dramaturg Karim Ameur, this presentation of the classic tale of sexual exploitation and debauchery is a strange, though successful, hybrid of ancient and modern.
The story centres on the former lovers and rivals, the Marquise de Merteuil and the Vicomte de Valmont, who use their seductive powers to corrupt the innocent. Candida Guida as the marquise and Yosemeh Adjei, singing counter-tenor, as Valmont were totally convincing with Mr Adjei in his (what we used to call) loon pants, frilly shirt and Cuban-heeled boots being the very epitome of depraved decadence.
Written only seven years before the French revolution, it has never been clear whether de Laclos’s book was a criticism or celebration of l’ancien regime, but either way, it does not depict the French aristocracy in its most favourable light.
The story had been cleverly distilled down to five singing parts with a very large retinue of flunkies cum non-singing chorus cum costumed stage-management which worked very well. I liked their identical costumes – those funny suits the Dutch wear with fabric patterned with bold, quirky images – and silly black wigs perched on their heads.
The very long first half was very much Vivaldi’s show and the music and new libretto merged invisibly so you would think they had always been so. The costumes by Mirjam Pater and clever décor by Herbert Janse were excellent and, along with moody lighting by Marc Heinz, really helped create the perfect atmosphere. This was a co-production with Netherlands Bach Society (Nederlandse Bach Vereniging) and the small orchestra, containing some wonderfully exotic old instruments was under the very able baton of Hernán Schvartzman.
The second half was a very different kettle of fish with no so much Vivaldi but a lot of recitative and new music by Vanni Moretti. I think I preferred the second half. Although less musical, it had some fine visual and dramatic moments. I loved the smoky scene with the candles and the moment towards the end when poor Madame de Tourvel, very nicely played by Barbara Kozelj, is being trussed up in straight-jacket while the Marquise is being dressed in all her feathered finery. It was one of many outstanding moments.
Stephanie True was excellent and believable as the innocent, ripe-for-picking Cécile and Maayan Licht, who also sang counter-tenor, made an uncorrupted Chevalier Danceny. Which brings me to my only reservation.
I am not sure it was a good idea to cast both male singers as counter-tenors. It is a very unnatural way of singing and can jar a little after a while. I think I would have been happier to have one of them as a tenor or even baritone. But apart from that little niggle the whole thing was brilliantly conceived and executed.
The climax when the walls come tumbling down and the wheels come off the corrupt household was very powerful – with Valmont lying dead on the floor, the massed retinue slowly pursues the aristos off stage like a herd of zombies, not yet sans coulottes.
This was the first time I have seen Opera2Day and I really enjoyed their production of Les Liaisons Dangereuses which yet again has demonstrated that there is a brave new world of opera out there which has yet to be fashioned. I shall look forward to their next project. Michael Hasted 18th January 2019