Innovative opera based on Les Liaisons dangereuses. After Quartett by Heiner Müller.
Luca Francesconi, Teatro alla Scala
The Holland Festival 2013 opens with a tale of love, intrigue, heartbreak and torment. Based on Heiner Müller’s stage version of Les Liaisons dangereuses, composer Luca Francesconi wrote an opera which had its world premiere in 2011 at Milan’s La Scala Theatre with a spectacular staging by Àlex Ollé. On a stage that symbolises their emotional prison, Valmont and Merteuil fight their bitter, violent battles, a vocal duel interspersed with orchestral dreams of what could have been, but never will be. After all, the two former lovers not only play a deadly game with the hearts of others, with their cynical machinations they ultimately also condemn their own chances of happiness to failure.
Leading Italian composer Luca Francesconi's opera Quartett premiered in 2011 at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan. It's a work with quite a history: Francesconi created a musical adaptation of Heiner Müller's sensational play Quartett from 1980, which was in turn inspired by the famous epistolary novel Les Liaisons dangereuses (1782) by Pierre-Ambroise-François Choderlos de Laclos. Müller's play was staged at the Holland Festival in 2008 in an acclaimed direction with Barbara Sukowa and Jeroen Willems. Francesconi's earlier opera Gesualdo considered as a murderer, commissioned by the Holland Festival, premiered in Amsterdam in 2004.
In Müller's radical revision of the original story by Choderlos de Laclos only two roles have remained: the Marquise de Merteuil and the Vicomte de Valmont. These former lovers have reduced love to a power game in which love affairs with others are a means to gain control over each other. Valmont intimates that he has fallen in love with the married Madame de Tourvel; Merteuil is irritated by this and challenges him to seduce her niece, the virgin Volanges. Valmont agrees. What ensues is a perverse role play, in which Merteuil and Valmont change sexes and play out the love scenes with the married woman and the virgin between themselves. In other words, the quartet mentioned in the title is attained by Merteuil and Valmont doubling themselves. When they have lost themselves completely in this way and could be anybody or nobody, a power game to the death begins.
Which era the action is taking place in, remains unclear, both in the play and in the opera. Francesconi has copied Müller's ambiguous indication: 'Salon before the French Revolution/Bunker after the Third World War.' Francesconi is a composer displaying a great talent for drama. His score, a triumph of sensuality, exposes the abyss of instincts which hides behind the facade of aristocratic seduction rituals. His reference to Berg's Lulu is telling in this respect. Francesconi divides the orchestra in contrasting groups and also uses electronics to bring his music into the space. The electronic music was made by Francesconi in collaboration with Serge Lemouton of IRCAM, the institute for acoustic research which was founded by Pierre Boulez. Although at 1 hour and 20 minutes Quartett is not very long, the parts of both singers – the same singers who sang at the world premiere will be performing - are extremely intensive and challenging. The musical direction is in the hands of Susanna Mälkki, principal conductor of the Ensemble Intercontemporain. Over the years Mälkki has frequently performed and recorded the music of Francesconi and at his invitation also conducted the premiere at La Scala.
The reflections in the libretto are mirrored in the spectacular stage design by Alex Ollé of the Catalan theatre group La Fura dels Baus. The stage provides a space for Merteuil and Valmont to project their fantasies – in part literally so, with the use of film footage and pre-recorded vocal parts. But the projections are not limited to the stage: the performance also holds up a mirror to the audience. In this way, Francesconi and Ollé, in the footsteps of Müller, diagnose, by way of suggestion, the crisis in which our civilisation finds itself, somewhere between the French Revolution and the Third World War.
Luca Francesconi (1956) studied piano at the Conservatory of Milan and composition with Azio Corghi and Karlheinz Stockhausen (in Rome) and with Luciano Berio (in Tanglewood). He also studied jazz for a year at the Berklee College of Music. In 1990 he founded the Agon Acustica Informatica Musica in Milan, which is a research centre for music technology. Francesconi composes for almost all genres and often makes use of electronics. He has written five radio operas for the Italian broadcaster RAI and a number of operas for the theatre. He was commissioned for compositions by Nieuw Ensemble, STEIM Amsterdam, IRCAM, Asko|Schönberg and the Nederlandse Blazers Ensemble. His works for large orchestra include Wanderer for the Filarmonica della Scala led by Riccardo Muti and Cobalt, Scarlet for the Oslo Filharmoniske Orkester led by Mariss Jansons. His work has been performed by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, the Gewandhausorchester Leipzig, the BBC Symphony Orchestra, the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France and the Götenborg Symphoniker. He has written two string quartets for the Arditti Quartet and two violin concertos for Irvine Arditti. Francesconi's choral music has been performed by the Vokalensemble Stuttgart led by Peter Eötvös, the Swedish Radio Choir and the New London Chamber Choir. For his work he has won many awards, including the Kranichsteiner Musikpreis (1990), the Förderpreis der Ernst-von-Siemens-Musikstiftung (1994) and the Prix Italia (1994). Francesconi not only works as a composer, but also as a conductor. He lectured at many Italian conservatories and gives masterclasses all over the world. He was a guest lecturer in Rotterdam and heads up the composition department of he conservatory in Malmö. Since 2008 he has been artistic director of the Venice Biennale, and since 2012 has been in charge of the Ultima Festival in Oslo. From 2013 he is resident composer at the Casa de Música in Porto.
Heiner Müller (1929-1995) is regarded as one of the most important German playwrights of the twentieth century. He also worked as a director, poet, writer of prose, essayist and artistic director. For the greater part of his working life he lived in the GDR (East-Germany). In 1946 Müller joined the social democratic party SPD, which under pressure from the Soviet-Union merged with the Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschlands (SED, Social Unity Party Germany). He wrote literary reviews for cultural magazines and in 1954 he joined the Deutsche Schriftstellerverband (DSV, German Writers Association). During this period his first play, Zehn Tage, die die Welt erschütterten (Ten days that shook the world), premiered. His play Die Umsiedlerin (The Resettler Woman) (1961) was banned directly after its premiere, and Müller was ousted from the Writers Association, which he wasn't allowed to rejoin until 1988. It marked the beginning of a troublesome relationship between Müller and the socialist authorities; much of his work was first performed in West-Germany. From the late 1980's Müller also rose to prominence as a director. In 1990 he staged a full eight hour version of Hamlet at the Deutsche Theater in Berlin, in which he had integrated his own work Die Hamletmaschine from 1979. In 1984 Müller joined the Akademie der Künste der DDR and in 1986 he became a member of the Akademie der Künste West-Berlin. From 1990 until 1993 he was the last serving president of the East-German academy, when it merged with the Akademie der Künste in Berlin. Müller was one of the public speakers at the large protest on Alexanderplatz on 4 November 1989, a week before the fall of the Wall. In 1990 the festival Experimenta in Frankfurt am Main was dedicated to him. Müller was awarded many prizes for his works, including the Heinrich-Mann-Preis in 1959, the Georg-Büchner-Preis in 1985, the Kleist-Preis in 1990 and the Europese Theaterpreis in 1991; in 1996 he was posthumously awarded the Theaterpreis Berlin.
Susanna Mälkki (1969) is a Finnish conductor. She trained as a cellist before studying direction with Jorma Panula, Eri klas and Leif Segerstam at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki. She also studied at the Royal Academy of Music in London. In 1995 Mälkki became first cellist at the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra; in 1998 she decided to focus exclusively on conducting and joined the Sibelius Academy Conductor’s Workshop in Carnegie Hall, supervised by Esa-Pekka Salonen. From 2002 until 2005 she was principal conductor of the Stavanger Symphony Orchestra. In 2004 she had her first performance with the Ensemble InterContemporain at the Festival of Luzern; since 2006 she has been principal conductor of this ensemble - this will be her last season. Mälkki is a specialist of contemporary repertoire, but is also acclaimed for her versatility. She directs ensembles and orchestras all over the world, including the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, the Berliner Philharmoniker, the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks, the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. As well as concerts she has also conducted many operas, including Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier and L'Amour de loin by Kaija Saariaho at the Finnish National Opera. Next season she will take on the musical direction of two productions at the Opéra National de Paris. Conducting Luca Francesconi’s Quartett in 2011, she made her debut at La Scala in Milan. She was the first woman conductor in the history of this famous opera house, where she will return in 2014. In 2010 Mälkki was elected Fellow of the Royal Academy of Music in London. She is also a member of the Royal Swedish Music Academy. In 2011 she received the prestigious Pro Finlandia Medal in the Order of the Lion of Finland.
This performance was made possible with support by
- Luca Francesconi
- Luca Francesconi
- Susanna Mälkki
- Àlex Ollé (La Fura dels Baus)
- stage design
- Alfons Flores
- Franc Aleu
- Lluc Castells
- Marco Filibeck
- computer sound design
- Serge Lemouton (IRCAM)
- IRCAM technical staff
- sound engineer
- Sébastien Naves
- recording, editing and mixing of the choir and orchestra at La Scala
- Julien Aléonard
- computer music production
- Benoit Meudic
- recording, montage and mixing of choir and orchestra
- Julien Aléonard
- choral direction
- Bruno Casoni
- Robin Adams
- Allison Cook
- Ensemble da camera dell'Accademia, Teatro alla Scala
- Teatro alla Scala
- Wiener Festwochen
- with support of
- IRCAM, Parijs
- with thanks to
- Ypma Piano’s / Steinway Center Nederland