Dangerous Liaisons: The Story
Source Novel • Choderlos de Laclos • Johnathan Daniel Steppe
• Libretto • Synopsis
began as the novel, Les Liaisons Dangereuses, by French author Choderlos de Laclos. Originally published
over two hundred years ago Les Liaisons Dangereuses was widely read at the time as a succès
de scandale (50 editions were published in his lifetime) and admired by readers such as Marie Antoinette, André
Gide and Charles Baudelaire. However, the story did not regain popularity until Christopher Hampton created the play that
was premiered in 1985 by the Royal Shakespeare Company at Stratford-on-Avon and later transferred to London’s West End
and New York’s Broadway. Wider popularity was assured by the release of the Stephen Frears’ film Dangerous
Liaisons with screenplay by Christopher Hampton in 1988, and Milos Foreman’s 1990 Valmont.
The reasons for the book’s neglect have less
to do with its qualities but more with its reputation. While famed as a lurid account of aristocratic sexual high jinks, it
is also an example of an outmoded form of writing. Serious readers in search of tragic uplift were disconcerted by the brilliant
comedy, and those seeking a more basic thrill were put off by the attention to psychological detail. The book is a series
of one hundred and seventy five letters through which the tale is recounted. The eighteenth century, in its leisure and literacy,
was a great age of letter writing. It is not surprising that the epistolary novel was one of the age’s most characteristic
literary forms, permitting a character to confide their innermost thoughts without the intervention of a formal narrative.
Letters could also be monotonously repetitious and contrived. Being an all important method of communication and a permanent
proof of deeds, the letter remains central to the action, even in the ballet version.
Christopher Hampton’s adaptation underlines the qualities
an audience expects of the eighteenth century, i.e. beautiful clothes and settings, witty dialogue and aristocratic frivolity.
This is in contrast to de Laclos who wrote in Mock-heroic style, which allows the writer to treat the most serious romantic
subject - sexual desire - in a most rigorous and classically comic manner.
Valmont is the nearest the novel comes to a hero. Though we soon discover that Madame de Merteuil is really
in charge of the plot, Valmont dominates the action. He is certainly the most attractive figure in the book. Valmont perceives
his rejection of Tourvel, for whom he has a real love, as a sign of his freedom and power over women; in fact it is quite
the reverse. When he claims his prize of favors from Madame de Merteuil she refuses him pointing out that the victory is hers,
for it was her strength of will that persuaded Valmont to give up Tourvel. In the novel death is Valmont’s release,
Cecile becomes a nun, Danceny takes a vow of celibacy and joins the Knights of Malta and Mme. de Merteuil is financially ruined
and becomes hideously disfigured by smallpox.
|Pierre Choderlos de Laclos
Ambrose Francois Choderlos de Laclos was born in 1741 and pursued a military career, becoming an accomplished artillery commander. It was while he was
assigned to a boring duty on a Bay of Biscay island at age forty that he determined, as he wrote to a friend, to use the time
to create something "out of the ordinary, eye-catching, something that would resound around the world" and live
after de Laclos’ death. The result was Les Liaisons Dangereuses, his first and only, and immediately
successful, novel. (His two other writings were a treatise on women’s education and an attack on Maréchal de
Vauban.) His sources for the story came from the time he spent in the garrison in Grenoble (1769 -75). There he observed the
local nobility, whose morals were extremely lax, although de Laclos himself did not have a reputation for behaving badly.
Instead he liked to talk with ladies and have them confide to him their love affairs.
In 1784 de Laclos married the sister of an admiral, Solange Marie Duperré, who had
stated, after reading his book, that "Monsieur Laclos will never set foot in our drawing room." On hearing this
statement de Laclos declared that "Within six months I will marry Mademoiselle Duperré." His seduction and
conquest of Mlle. Duperré is probably the closest he ever came to being like his character Valmont. He proved to be
a devoted husband writing, "For nearly twenty years now I have owed my happiness to you..."
During the French Revolution de Laclos was a Jacobin, a friend of Danton, secretary to "Philippe-Égalité"
the Duc d’Orléans. He was twice jailed, but the fall of Robespierre and the end of the Reign of Terror saved
him from the guillotine. At the turn of the century, Napoleon made de Laclos a brigadier general and assigned him to the Army
of the Rhine and then the Army in Italy. He was transferred to Naples and placed in charge of the defense of Taranto, where
he died of dysentery in 1803.
On Writing the Libretto to Dangerous Liaisons
by Johnathan Daniel Steppe
The initial decision to adapt Dangerous Liaisons for the musical stage
was one borne out of the impulse and enthusiasm of youth. Two friends, fresh out of high school and hungry
to create, stumbled on de Laclos' formidable and compelling novel. The story had all the right elements:
passion, intrigue, sex and betrayal. Certainly, this would make a great musical! Yet what began as a young
dream and now exists as a fully realized work, has since evolved and been tempered in the years through which the work was
written. It has become not simply a derivative of a great novel, but now stands as a unique and fascinating work in its own
When approaching the novel for adaptation, it was crucial to me as the librettist that the work
be unique. We of course wanted to remain true to de Laclos, but at the same time wanted to create a musical
that expanded the themes presented by de Laclos, while filtering them through our own experiences and interests.
I found myself drawn to the roles in which men and women were cast during the time period of the novel, and how the
stratification of gender molded the characters of Valmont and the Marquise. Born into a culture which set
men and women in an adversarial position to one another, the two conspirators are born into their monstrosity.
Still, it is difficult to dismiss them as villains when one views the circumstances which gave them rise.
Another theme which is expanded upon in the musical is the concept of the game. Dangerous
Liaisons is a story of intrigue, of the perilous games played between people when desires are suppressed and
motives concealed. The characters of the story are extremely passionate, yet exist in a time when passions
were not to be openly expressed. What happens to a person who is denied their passions? In
Dangerous Liaisons, the characters must resort to their hidden games, games that lead to a spider
web of relationships pulled taught by unspoken tensions.
With such a compelling story, endlessly complex
characters, and controversial themes, it becomes immediately obvious why Dangerous Liaisons drew
me as a writer. What might not be obvious is, why do a musical? Simply put, the natural
poetry of the original work and the heightened drama intrinsic to the storyline lends itself perfectly to musicalization.
The music reveals new levels to the story, expanding the audience's experience and understanding of each of the characters
where simple words could not. When successful, the melding of lyric and note is magical; it transcends
the mundane and gives us a greater form of storytelling.
As a lyricist, I have been blessed with not only a truly great friend, but a truly great composer with which
to collaborate. What started as a dream is now a reality; where once there was nothing, there is now an
exciting new musical to savor. The process of writing a musical is breathtaking, heartbreaking, and nothing, yet everything,
like I expected. With each word written, the work changed. Each time the work changed,
I changed. My greatest wish for this work is that it will touch others the way that it has touched me.
To touch others, to change them, even if subtly - that is the greatest accomplishment that any artist can achieve.
In addition to having provided the libretto, Johnathan Daniel Steppe, himself a skilled actor and director,
also contributed to the Original Concept Recording by co-casting the principle roles, occasionally consulting as dialogue coach, and even singing in the chorus, where he can
be heard briefly as a cameo soloist.
|Click to Enlarge
Dangerous Liaisons Libretto
special edition of Johnathan Daniel Steppe's text and lyrics.
Deceptive psychological maneuvering, irresistable
characters and true theatrical flair shine in this libretto to Dangerous Liaisons by writer, actor, director and
vocalist Johnathan Daniel Steppe. This special edition is based on the version presented in the Complete Original
Concept Recording. Grab your favorite chair and get ready for a fresh look at this notorious tale of scandal and
ruin. Providing all inaudible gestures , references and stage directions, it is the perfect companion book to the recording
for the fullest listening experience. Includes Foreword by the author, a new Introduction by Malcolm Caluori, Characters
and Original Recorded Cast credits and photos, Synopsis and bonus Production Diary of the unique historic recording that
was nearly lost to the world forever. Paperback, 5.5x8.5, approx. 220 pages.
Get this book for FREE! To be notified of this publication's
pre-/new-release promotion, sign up now at The Privy. As one of the book's first potential readers and reviewers, you may even have the chance to get the book for free!
Dangerous Liaisons Production Script
Johnathan Daniel Steppe's text and lyrics in standard industrial format.
Insightful character development and true theatrical dramatic flair
shine in this libretto by writer, actor, director and vocalist Johnathan Daniel Steppe. The complete libretto to Dangerous
Liaisons includes Foreword by the author, Production Specifications, Cast of Characters list, Character Breakdown (pricipal
roles), and Synopsis.
Paperback, 5.5x8.5, 150 pages. This edition is the official production script and is printed
in industry script format.
In the last days of pre-Revolutionary France, the aristocracy gather for entertainment
and scandal. Among them, the Vicomte de Valmont, and the Marquise de Merteuil, once lovers and still long-time partners in
secret games of seduction. The Marquise learns that a former lover who abandoned her for another has become engaged to Cécile
Volanges, the virginal daughter of her cousin, Madame de Volanges. Recognizing the girl as her opportunity, the Marquise vows
vengeance, and determines to enlist her confidante, the notorious Valmont, to take the young girl before her marriage.
Valmont refuses to assist the Marquise in this matter, confessing
that he has already met his next conquest, the pious and happily married Madame de Tourvel, at the country estate of his aunt,
Madame de Rosemonde, where she is a guest. But his advances toward the Marquise inspire her to strike a deal: one night of
passion together as reward for his victory over Tourvel.
Turning her attentions
to Cécile, the Marquise orchestrates a secret meeting between Cécile and the Chevalier Dançeny, a poor
music teacher who Madame de Volanges hires to instruct her daughter. Although Cécile and Dançeny do fall in
love, as the Marquise hoped, the Chevalier remains respectful of Cécile, and Cécile remains a virgin.
Meanwhile at the Rosemonde estate, Valmont succeeds, through a series of staged encounters,
in gaining Madame de Tourvel’s friendship. Knowing his reputation, Tourvel sees Valmont as a soul to be saved. Yet the
connection between them slowly grows deeper. Still, Valmont overplays his hand when he confesses his love to her, and she
asks that he leave the estate. Obliged by his own words, Valmont leaves the country.
his return to Paris, Valmont agrees to take Cécile himself, as revenge on her mother whom he had discovered was warning
Tourvel against him. The Marquise devises a plan in which Valmont can pursue both Cécile and Tourvel at the same time.
She betrays Cécile’s correspondence with Dançeny to Volanges, then advises Volanges to take the girl to
the Rosemonde estate to separate her from Dançeny. Volanges agrees, and the Marquise promises to join them shortly
thereafter. Meanwhile, Valmont consoles Dançeny and, promising to deliver Dançeny’s letters to Cécile,
heads back to his aunt’s home.
Valmont’s return to Rosemonde’s interrupts a supper party
at which Tourvel is present. As tensions mount, Valmont succeeds in upsetting Tourvel, who retreats to the garden for fresh
air. He follows and, though at first she spurns his presence, her growing feelings lead them to an uneasy reconciliation.
sneaks into Cécile’s room where he forces himself on her and, using blackmail and the girl’s own ignorance,
succeeds in his dark seduction. Distressed, Cécile turns to the recently arrived Marquise for help, who corrupts her
with advise to continue learning the art of lovemaking from Valmont, to agree to the marriage, and to keep Dançeny
as a secret lover.
gala ball is given at the Rosemonde estate, where Tourvel finds herself on the brink of forbidden love, Cecile wonders at
the startling changes her life has taken, and Valmont sees himself poised for victory. Ever the secret manipulator, the Marquise
watches from afar, all of her pawns in place and checkmate only a few moves away.
Valmont Continues with his sexual education of Cécile, and with his pursuit of Tourvel, who
finally relents to her growing attraction. Moved by compassion, however, Valmont hesitates and Tourvel flees the estate at
Rosemonde’s insistence. Furious at his weakness, Valmont pursues Tourvel to Paris, where he and Tourvel at last give
in to their passion.
Later, as Volanges worries about her daughter’s behavior, Valmont attempts to claim his prize from the Marquise.
She rejects his demand, claiming that he is now in love with Tourvel. Valmont cites his success with Cécile, who has
recently miscarried, as further reason why the Marquise should acquiesce, but the Marquise is adamant: Valmont must leave
Tourvel and betray her love.
Tourvel has indeed fallen in love with Valmont, and has broken from her husband. But when she joyously greets Valmont,
he coldly rejects her, fulfilling the Marquise’s wishes. As Valmont rushes to the Marquise, Tourvel collapses from anguish.
Still, the love that has grown between Valmont and Tourvel creates a further rift between the two former lovers, and one time
allies begin a steady march toward enmity. Valmont discovers Dançeny in the Marquise’s bed and, after sending
the boy away, gives the Marquise an ultimatum, which she fiercely rejects.
Moved by pride and now bent on revenge, Valmont and the Marquise
turn their treachery upon each other. As the climax approaches, secrets are revealed and passions explode with unexpected
and deadly consequences. The resulting endgame can have no victor, as the true price of this most dangerous game is at last
Production quality Libretti, Vocal Scores and Chorus Books will soon be available
in our Online Store. The full score to Dangerous Liaisons is available on a rental basis only at this time.
Benefit by working with the creators! Dangerous Liaisons Training Recordings
designed for the cast of the Original Concept Recording are available in our Online Store. 7 Principal Roles, Chorus (SA) and Chorus (TB), get fully detailed custom music training led by the
composer - now available to you!
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