Against Nature

Against Nature: synopsis

Des Esseintes, a jaded, wealthy aristocrat, disenchanted with his life of urban debauchery, decides to seclude himself in a country estate, far from the society and temptations of Paris. Apart from an elderly couple as servants, he cuts himself off absolutely from society. He recreates nature within his chateau, sparing no expense or artifice to improve upon the original. An aquarium is constructed, complete with mechanical fish and the deck of a ship. He devours not only books but entire literatures—Roman and Greek and French classics—only to reject almost every author except his beloved Baudelaire. A living tortoise is encrusted with jewels, the better to match his sumptuous oriental rugs, only to have the tortoise die, whereupon he has it thrown out. A greenhouse is set up with the rarest, most expensive flowers, but they too fade and die. And so it goes with paintings, with music, with a contortionist-prostitute: all fail to satisfy him before he loses interest.

As he experiments, Des Esseintes experiences flashbacks to his youth: his days at Catholic boarding school, his youthful excesses. Meanwhile, his rich diet, odd hours, lack of society, and staying indoors for months on end cause his health to decline rapidly. His doctor prescribes fresh air, exercise, and a healthy diet, but this advice is ignored. He sets out instead on a journey to England, but doesn’t make it out of France before he retreats to his home. At last he becomes so ill that his doctor tells him he must give up his chateau in favour of Paris or face certain death. At this, he relents, and reluctantly leaves the countryside to return to Paris.

Against Nature is the story of a man who is prepared to sacrifice his health in his quest for the most beautiful, the finest, the most intense aesthetic experiences. He catalogues each sensory pleasure, and rejects anything that falls short of his standards. Setting himself apart and against society, and against the compromises necessary to live this life, he fails in his experiment—fails badly, but heroic ally.

Excerpts from reviews

Rolfe’s score is an accomplishment: spare, ominous and atmospheric. It’s sung with clarity and sustained feeling by Dobson in the lead role (The Master), who finds the necessary electric mania in his eyes. – Martha Schabas, The Globe and Mail, 6 May 2016

Rolfe’s score was both sensitive to the needs of the singer while creating a beautiful sonority in the trio … there were moments where they blended so well with the singers that it was hard to tell which instrument onstage was actually producing the pitch. The effect was mesmerizing. Bravi tutti. – Greg Finney, Scmopera. 13 May 2016