Luca Francesconi’s Quartett in Malmö

Luca Francesconi’s Quartett first performed at La Scala in 2011 and subsequently given at ROH’s Linbury Studio and elsewhere has recently had a most successful Nordic première in Malmö  Based on Heiner Müller’s play, a reflection on Les Liaisons Dangereuses by Laclos, it is an impressive work, gripping throughout with a score which, though aggressively modern, is also lyrical. As the two characters explore their own sexual identity and means of sexual satisfaction, as well as the phenomena of innocence, corruption and experience, the music deploys ironies, for example masculinity for the mezzo Merteuil, femininity for the baritone Valmont, as they play each other’s part in the imaginary seduction scene. It also contains interplay between the present, the orchestra in the pit, and the past, a recorded electronic score.

Kirstin Chávez gave a masterly performance as Merteuil, a repeat of her London success. Able to convey eroticism by vocal inflexion and minimal physical movement, she was imperious on the stage. Her portrayal was well matched by the Valmont of Christian Miedl who was particularly convincing in his post-coital degeneration and humiliation. The staging (director Stefan Johansson, designers Jan Lundberg and Ann-Margret Fyregård) was not the least remarkable aspect of the performance. Moving between metallic structures expressing perhaps the remorseless hardness of the enterprise and the luxury and decadence of sofas, the characters explore their fate predominantly in black  They then change costumes into and out of crimson, for female desire and death, and white, for innocence. A word for praise, finally, for conductor Ralf Kircher and the hard-working Malmö orchestra.