La Fura dels Baus turns its hand to opera

DQ: Don Quijote en Barcelona | Gran Teatre del Liceubarcelona
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The Independent Culture

La Fura dels Baus is a radical theatre group best known for physical, often violent performances making creative use of flame-throwers, chainsaws, canned sardines and enforced audience participation. When the troupe was hired by the Gran Teatre del Liceu, symbol of traditional excellence in Catalan musical life, Barcelona could hardly believe its ears.

La Fura dels Baus is a radical theatre group best known for physical, often violent performances making creative use of flame-throwers, chainsaws, canned sardines and enforced audience participation. When the troupe was hired by the Gran Teatre del Liceu, symbol of traditional excellence in Catalan musical life, Barcelona could hardly believe its ears.

Given its long-standing mission to épater le bourgeois, it was only a matter of time before La Fura turned its mind to opera. Following their productions of de Falla's Atlantida in 1996, Debussy's Le Martyre de Saint Sebastien in 1997, and their version of Berlioz's La Damnation de Faust at last year's Salzburg Festival, their most recent project is given its world premiere this week in Barcelona.

This the nearest La Fura have yet come to a Gesamtkunstwerk of their own devising. DQ, a science-fictional take on the mythical Spanish figure of Don Quixote, is an original work with music by Jose Luis Turina to a libretto by Justo Navarro. The action of the opera follows the man of La Mancha on his travels through time and space, touching down three times in three acts: Geneva in the year 3014, Hong Kong in 3016, and Barcelona in 2005.

The result is visually stunning.People and objects (including a motorbike and a leg of ham) rise and fall on steel cables. Much use is made of giant screens, banks of televisions, and other paraphernalia of the open-air rock concert. When Don Quixote arrives in Hong Kong in a giant zeppelin, hovering majestically before swinging phallically above the stalls, the awestruck whispers of the smart Barcelona audience are clearly audible.

But opera is more than simply spectacle. It relies for its dramatic and expressive force upon music and voices, and herein lies the problem with DQ. Turina's music is anchored in a late 20th-century avant-garde idiom which to these ears sounds more sterile and tedious by the day. It has little sense of dramatic drive or purpose. Its vocal complexity hides a curious emotional void, so that even the figure of the Don, a pathetic and confused old man, bravely sung by Austrian baritone Michael Kraus, managed to leave this listener completely cold.

One can imagine the frustration with which La Fura dels Baus, known for their experiments with a varied palette of musics ranging from hardcore punk and electronic noise to flamenco, came to realise that this would be "their" opera's basic raw material, whether they liked it or not.

Thus dampened, the spark of their invention never quite sets fire to the production as a whole. The scenic mayhem of Act III, set in a futuristic recreation of the Ramblas, with euphoric bursts of techno blasting from the speakers into the Liceu's gilt-and-velvet auditorium, provides only a fleeting glimpse of the truly ground-breaking, mind-blowing event this might have been.

Last performance tonight. Bookings: 0034 93 485 9900

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