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21 Jan 2019

Vivaldi scores intriguing but uneven Dangerous Liaisons in The Hague

“Why should I spend good money on tables when I have men standing idle?” asks a Regency country squire in the British sitcom Blackadder the Third. The Marquise de Merteuil in OPERA2DAY’s Dangerous Liaisons would agree with him. Her servants support her dinner table, groaning with gateaux, on their backs.

Dangerous Liaisons, Koninklijke Schouwburg, The Hague

A review by Jenny Camilleri

 

No wonder that, by the end of the evening, they have all defected to join the revolution. As imaginative and ambitious as their previous projects, OPERA2DAY’s latest production is a pastiche of vocal gems from Antonio Vivaldi’s operas, his Stabat Mater and Juditha triumphans, his only surviving oratorio. Sonatas and concertos provide the instrumental intermezzos. The libretto, by Stefano Simone Pintor and Serge van Veggel, is an adaptation of that fecund inspiration for plays, films, operas and ballets, Pierre Choderlos de Laclos’s 1782 epistolary novel Les liaisons dangereuses. Arias were reworded and recitatives added. Composer Vanni Moretto threaded it all together and scored the recitatives, which at times sounded more like Mozart than Vivaldi. Despite an uneven cast and a debatable finale, the production was visually entertaining and had many striking moments.

Since Vivaldi supplied the music, the setting was moved from France to Venice. Otherwise, the quintet of soloists more or less sticks to the original tale. Two jaded aristocratic ex-lovers, the Marquise de Merteuil and the Vicomte de Valmont, casually ruin a young couple in love while chasing the real prize, Madame de Tourvel, a morally spotless judge’s wife. It all starts off light-heartedly, with much innuendo about the storming of citadels. Things turn grim, however, when Valmont unexpectedly falls in love with Marie de Tourvel and the Marquise is consumed with jealousy. Perhaps alluding to this green-eyed monster, the mixed-era costumes are in every shade of green imaginable, from wrinkled pea to deep olive, contrasting with the set’s scarlet-and-gold palatial splendor. Actors and extras play an army of servants, constantly fetching and carrying props. Van Veggel, who also directs, marshals them with droll inventiveness. When the flunkey-flogging Valmont seeks out Madame de Tourvel in church, one of his men carries in a huge cross and, like Christ on the road to Calvary, buckles under its weight. The theatrical high point is the consecutive conquests by the older couple of the Chevalier Danceny and Cécile de Volanges. Under the guise of lessons in the art of seduction, the convent graduate and her music teacher are deflowered on a canopy bed with a perfect mix of eroticism and humor. Coloratura leading to orgasm is a mainstay of Baroque opera, but Stefanie True’s Cécile atop countertenor Yosemeh Adjei’s Valmont did it in the best of taste, while warbling “Sperai la pace qual usignolo” from Orlando, finto pazzo.

True was a charming Cécile. The core of her pleasant soprano was a tad flimsy, but it rose clearly to a flute-like top. As Danceny, male soprano Maayan Licht displayed a bewildering flexibility. Apart from his unusual voice type, he had the technical proficiency to deliver the role’s musical witticisms in the most natural manner. Adjei’s highly amusing Valmont swaggered around on high-heeled boots with complete confidence, even when fornicating with a fortepiano. He sang very well, but, his voice not having the cut for the furious arias, was much more convincing in lyrical mode. Contralto Candida Guida showed plenty of temperament as the Marquise. Unfortunately, on opening night she was not in good voice. Uncertain intonation and imprecise runs marred such virtuoso challenges as “Nel profondo” from Orlando furioso. Singing with a velvety legato, mezzo-soprano Barbara Kozelj as Madame de Tourvel made her every appearance an event, including the favorite “Sposa, son disprezzata”, filched by Vivaldi from Geminiano Giacomelli. In the pit, the Netherlands Bach Society under Hernán Schvartzman were limber and expressive and gave one of the best musical performances of the evening.

The opera hops along nicely until the seventh and final scene, when swathes of spoken dialogue provide the denouement. Suddenly, we’re in a play rather than an opera. The disillusionment of the young couple when they realize they’ve been used, the Marquise humiliating Valmont, Valmont allowing Danceny to kill him in a duel—all this happens without a single sung note. No doubt this was a deliberate choice, but it felt as if the writers had lost faith in opera as narrative. Laughing hysterically, the Marquise prepares for her final ball. In a gown of iridescent raven feathers, she dances to Moretto’s arrangement of the Trio Sonata in D minor Op.1 no.12,La Follia”. It’s the perfect soundtrack for the Marquise’s breakdown and the ancien régime collapsing all around her. Moretto’s orchestration highlights the dissonants in La Follia’s wild conclusion and the opera ends with an arresting pairing of sound and visuals, which could have done without the wordy lead-up. Instead, more great vocal stuff was called for, such as when Cécile and Madame de Tourvel both retreat to convents, the former to take the veil and the latter as a mental patient. Their lonely cries rose forlornly out of the darkness in the echo aria “L’ombre, l’aure e ancora il rio” from Ottone in villa—piercingly beautiful. Dangerous Liaisons continues to tour the Netherlands until the 16th of March. Performances are subtitled in English and Dutch.

Jenny Camilleri

Vivaldi: Dangerous Liaisons

Marquise de Merteuil: Candida Guida; Vicomte de Valmont: Yosemeh Adjei; Présidente de Tourvel: Barbara Kozelj/Ingeborg Bröcheler (February 13 and 21); Chevalier Danceny: Maayan Licht; Cécile de Volanges: Stefanie True/Emma Fekete (February 1 and 8); Victoire: Emma Linssen; Azolan: Merijn de Jong; Lahaye: Fabian Smit; Serafia: Emma van Muiswinkel; Faubourg: Luciaan Groenier. Direction and Concept: Serge van Veggel; Libretto: Stefano Simone Pintor and Serge van Veggel. Additional Music: Vanni Moretto. Set Design: Herbert Janse; Costume Design: Mirjam Pater; Lighting Design: Marc Heinz. Conductor: Hernán Schvartzman. Netherlands Bach Society. Seen at the Koninklijke Schouwburg, The Hague, on Thursday, 17th of January, 2019.

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