OPERA / Safe sex: David Patrick Stearns on Susa's Dangerous Liaisons
Tuesday 20 September 1994
The 64-year-old Susa has always been a maverick on the American opera scene, exploring jazz, pop and other frankly tonal influences in his stage adaptation of the Anne Sexton verse collection Transformations and the darker aspects of Americana in the bracing Black River.
With The Dangerous Liaisons, he eschews the weight and pathos of Black River for something more homogeneous, congenial and slightly less satisfying. The overture embodies much of what is to come with gracefully cavorting melodies amid a lush string backdrop suggesting the opulence of aristocratic, pre-revolutionary France without specific period reference beyond occasional, unpredictable outbursts from the harpsichord.
In striving for stylistic neutrality, it comes out sounding like Richard Strauss on sedatives or Marc Blitzstein in Regina mode. Though there's a certain amount of psychological characterisation in the wind writing, the approach is sometimes too generalised to get at the venom behind the veneer.
Even so, it's a stageworthy and absorbing piece. Though Philip Littell's libretto lacks the distilled insights of Christopher Hampton's stage version, and telescopes some of the surprises out of the action, it has some interesting twists of its own. That Valmont stumbles into more than he bargained for in his affair with Tourvel is shown by their telepathic relationship during their agonised but separate deaths. And while, in Hampton's version, the Marquise ends up socially ruined, her final notes here are expressions of defiance and survival.
The Marquise marks a departure for Von Stade, who is perhaps more usually associated with Mozart. While she sometimes seems a little vocally under-powered, she projects a steely characterisation that will no doubt grow more vivid as she gains more confidence in the music. Sadly, that's just what much of the cast and orchestra lacked, despite solid conducting from Donald Runnicles. Most of the notes were there but the comprehension was not. Maybe no amount of acclimatisation will ever make Hampson a sexy Valmont - one felt mostly his brutality - or Fleming a three-dimensional Tourvel. But then, maybe Les Liaisons Dangereuses was never meant to be a grand, star-studded affair at all, but something altogether more intimate.
'Dangerous Liaisons': 21, 23, 27 Sept, War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco, USA (booking: 010 1 415 864 3300)
Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awardsTheatre
Grace DentChannel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Alan Rickman admits editing 'terrible' script with friends in Pizza Hut behind backs of writers on Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves
- 2 Rarest Beanie Baby of them all could be sold for £62,500 on eBay
- 3 Professional big game hunter Ian Gibson crushed to death by elephant during hunt
- 4 Farmer told to tear down mock-Tudor castle after hiding construction behind hay bales
- 5 Rebecca Francis accuses Ricky Gervais of using 'influence' to target female hunters after receiving barrage of death threats
Better Call Saul creator Peter Gould on the creative concerns of a prequel, season 2 and the mind-numbing realities of the small courts
Game of Thrones season 5: Emilia Clarke praises characters who 'accept their femininity'
Britain's Got Talent 2015: RSPCA investigating Marc Metral's miming dog after cruelty complaints
Fifty Shades of Grey movie shows first sex scene 'after 40 minutes'
Glastonbury 2015 tickets: How to make sure you’re successful in Sunday's re-sale
If I’m being racially abused I don’t need a stranger with a saviour complex to rescue me
The only black face in the Ukip manifesto is on the page about overseas aid
Ukip is the only main political party to not address LGBT rights in its manifesto
Food banks: One million Britons will soon be using them, according to Trussell Trust
Religion isn't growing, it is becoming vigorous in its demise, says philosopher AC Grayling
BBC election debate: The one photo that summed up the whole 90-minute leaders debate