Dustin Hoffman directs a film that vacillates between the vicissitudes, decrepitude of once- gifted musicians and their resistance or acceptance of their octogenarian state and faded fame; flirting with poignancy but never quite grasping it; the characters become comical “caricatures” of diminished vitality, spouting maudlin repartee. Michael Cambon was particularly annoying as the grousing director.
The fine moments revolve around four operatic geniuses, thrown together at Beecham House, an English manor for senior musicians; Tom Courtenay and Maggie Smith are dazzling as a once-married couple, divorced for decades, forced to cross paths and pains and adjust to a shared dotage; Billy Connolly, sultrily salacious, sprinkles levity and charm on every female; Pauline Collins wins all hearts with her genuine portrayal of a mind losing its luster, and tenuous grasp on reality. Herein lies the “quartet”, sought after to perform at the yearly Gala at Beecham House. Their challenge: sing Guiseppe Verdi’s quartet from the opera “Rigoletto”.
Seeing my first opera at nineteen, in the Paleolithic era, instantly addicted to the genre, the “Quartet” was galvanizing in its score; every aria, wrapped its tentacles around my spirit, soaring worldwide, tasting the divine, knowing a moment of pristine, flawless happiness; opera is an aphrodisiac, a substance if withdrawn, would leave a shriveled, withered soul.
Those who share this passion are gifted with one of the most pivotal, enlightening explanations of opera ever voiced on the screen; “Reggie” (Tom Courtenay) teaches a group of students the finer points of the genre; while one young man compares it to “rap”; staggeringly wonderful five minutes; validates the viewing.
Somerset Maugham said that “art is an emotion, a language that all can understand”; this thread of emotion resonates profoundly throughout “Quartet” , overcoming its flaws, gifting viewers hope, that as sunsets and sunrises become fewer, they still have the potency, power to splendidly dazzle, awe, as in one’s youth.