Doctor Ox’s Experiment synopsis
Music by Gavin Bryars
Libretto by Blake Morrison after Jules Verne
First performed: 1997
Quiqendone, in nineteenth-century Flanders, is a town of unimaginable slowness and deep tranquillity – until Doctor Ox arrives with his assistant Ygène. A scientist and adventurer, Ox offers to supply the town with a modern street-lighting system; in fact, he is conducting an experiment to see if the injection into Quiquedone of an oxygen gas can alter the behaviour of the townfolk – and in time, perhaps, change the world. When Van Tricasse and Niklausse visit Ox in his laboratory, they’re so animated by the gas they order him to proceed at once. The effects are first felt by the rest of the town during a performance of Meyerbeer's opera Les Huguenots at the local theatre. Frenzy and havoc ensue, and the touchingly innocent relationship between the young lovers Frantz and Suzel is all but destroyed.
Quiquendone has been transformed into an energized but decadent modern metropolis. As authority crumbles and various political factions compete for the people's heart, there is talk of overthrowing the town leaders. Under threat, Van Tricasse and Niklausse unite the people in a local nationalist cause, reviving a centuries-old dispute over a cow as a pretext to declare war on neighbouring Virgamen. As troops mass and catastrophe threatens, Ygène pleads with Ox to curtail the experiment. A huge explosion occurs and the town slowly awakens as if from a bad dream. Only Suzel, in a closing address to Frantz, says that nothing can ever be the same again.
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