Institute of Contemporary Arts
10/21/2004 and 22, 23 October 2004
Paul Clark: Liebeslied/My Suicides
Natalie Raybould (Lover), Christopher Lemmings (Artist), Zoe Todd (Writer)
Gerry Cornelius (conductor), Tom Sapsford (director)
10/19/2004 and 20-22 October 2004
Jean-Philippe Rameau: Les Paladins
Topi Lehitipuu (Atis), Stéphanie d'Oustrac (Argie), Danielle de Niese (Nérine), Françla;ois Piolino (Manto), Joã Fernandes (Orcan), René Schirrer (Anselme), Emiliano Gonzalez Toro (A Paladin)
William Christie (music director), José Montalvo and Dominique Hervieu (direction and choreography)
Les Arts Florissants, Centre Chorégraphique National de Créteil et du Val-de-Marne/Compagnie Montalvo-Hervieu
Liebeslied/My Suicides is subtitled "an opera", and like Der Rosenkavalier (inspired by Marriage à la mode) and The Rake's Progress it originated with visual art. Hogarth's paintings are moralistic and narrative, but Rut Blees Luxemburg's strikingly beautiful and austere colour photographs, taken in a city at night, lack any human presence. Their titles and often internal frames within the images suggest stage sets or mirrors that invite viewers to move into the image, even to obliterate themselves in it, an idea taken up and explored in the accompanying text by Alexander Garcia Düttman. Its title, My Suicides, refers to the related self-destruction of the writer who writes about apparently fixed and sterile photographs.
Düttman's libretto for the opera extracts three voices from the Beckettian monologue and identifies them as The Artist, perhaps the fixed vision of the photographs, the object that becomes the viewer's subject, The Writer, who attempts to reduce The Artist's work to language, and The Lover (costumed in slightly girly white), who seems to represent the temptation to pleasure in viewing and reading that the pictures and text try to repel. There are other operas on related themes, Capriccio in an allegorical way or Un re in ascolto more formally. But the experience of sitting in the dark in the ICA theatre, with Luxemburg's photographs projected at the back and the three singers interacting passionately on the otherwise almost empty stage, was far less like Berio than like Bayreuth without gods, heroes or dwarves, a kind of waking dream.
Unfortunately, Paul Clark's music was neither as alluring as Wagner's nor as incisive and evocative as Berio's. It could unkindly be described as modernist Lloyd Webber, although that would be to suggest that it was irritating, which it wasn't. Rather, it seemed to be a smoothed down pastiche of contemporary opera. First-rate performances by the two pianists, two violinists, viola, cello, bass, oboe and clarinet, and the extremely impressive singers, kept the whole thing engaging.
For the less cerebral, Les Arts Florissants' Les Paladins at the Barbican, used music, video and dance to create pure pleasure, as it did in Paris. Rameau's penultimate opera was, unusually, written for the public theatre and is heavy on dance and transformation scenes. The plot, a fabliau with added magic originally from Ariosto, via LaFontaine, is similar to Die Ausfuhrung aus dem Seraglio, while the last act trip to an illusory China recalls Purcell's Fairy Queen, and there are a sequence of comics turns as in both. There is no dialogue, however: the action (such as it is) is held together by the reactions of the eponymous knights errant. They are disguised as pilgrims but have more in common with Chaucer's than with Tannhäuser's, and tend to break out in celebratory dance at the least sign of love or triumph over misery.
The directors pick up on the idea that everyone is driven by quasi-animal motivation and run videos of animals across the stage: the lovers defy fate against a background of fierce rabbits; the heroine's pompous and jealous guardian is accompanied by a peacock; and there is a parade of other beasties to reflect the frolicking chorus. The singers and dancers dance with their own projected images in brightly coloured modern clubbing dress, bounce on clouds Fragonard-style, or pose nude like classical statues. The wit of the visuals, enjoyable as it was, was still merely a complement to the fantastic performance of the music by William Christie, Les Arts Flo and a good-looking young cast. If Les Paladins isn't Rameau's Falstaff -- it is altogether less composerly and self-referential -- the old chap still knew how to have a good time.