L’Heure Espagnole & L’Enfant et les Sortileges
The Glyndebourne Comedy Hour: L’Heure Espagnole, with Piolino, Shrader, d’Oustrac and Gay
© Simon Annand 2012
Ravel composed his two operas more than a decade apart and for different theaters, but L'Heure Espagnole (1911) and L'Enfant et les Sortileges (1925) register as so perfectly matched in consecutive performance that they have regularly been amalgamated into a double bill, as Glyndebourne did in its final new production of the season (seen Aug. 4).
The director was Laurent Pelly, familiar at this address for a staging of Hänsel und Gretel that won mixed reviews in 2008. On this occasion, his team consisted of set designers Caroline Ginet (whose work was based on an original on which she collaborated with Florence Evrard) for the Spanish comedy and Barbara de Limburg for Colette's tale of a naughty child redeemed; for the costumes of both productions Pelly relied on his own resources and those of Jean-Jacques Delmotte.
Leaving aside Hänsel, Pelly has an international reputation as a brilliant régisseur of Offenbach's operettas and Donizetti's comedies, and his light touch did not desert him on this occasion. Ginet's set was unmistakably the shop of a clockmaker, Torquemada's merchandise covering the walls and frequently lighting up or chiming to startling effect (the latter sounds notated, of course, in Ravel's mechanically specific score). The director and his team updated the eighteenth-century Toledo setting of L'Heure Espagnole to the 1960s, allowing the first of Concepción's lovers — the pretentiously lyrical Gonzalve — to become a flower-power poet in Alek Shrader's larger-than-life impersonation, and Don Iñigo, her second admirer, to don the grey suit of a respectable banker and small-town official in the person of Paul Gay. Concepción herself — sung by Stéphanie d'Oustrac — became a voracious local floozy, her unquenchable desire for an ardent lover vividly expressed in physical terms throughout the opera, including the removal of her own panties upon Gonzalve's arrival as the harbinger of things to come.
The muscular muleteer Ramiro was sung by Elliot Madore, who credibly carried around the supposedly populated clocks as if the feat were nothing for a man of his physique; the stage management involved in the disappearance of their human contents without so much as a hint of subterfuge was impeccable. Vocally, d'Oustrac's Concepción offered an aptly warm light mezzo, Madore's Ramiro a forward baritone and keenly etched line, Shrader's Gonzalve a light and plangent tenor and Gay's Iñigo a firm and focused bass-baritone, while François Piolino made much of his two appearances as Torquemada. But Ravel's score belongs largely to the orchestra, and the London Philharmonic clearly relished recreating its vast repertoire of subtle and intricate effects, though conductor Kazushi Ono could have done more to underline its pseudo-Spanish extroversion.
In L'Enfant, Ono's approach once again left something to be desired, in this case evincing a tendency to allow the piece to fall into a sequence of sections without much sense of their joining up, though his exploration of Ravel's coloristic and dynamic range demonstrated the composer's technical brilliance and immaculate taste.
De Limburg's designs emphasized the smallness of the Child by placing him, initially, on an enormous chair in front of an even more enormous table, and regularly throughout the show her imagination was sparked by the plethora of animate and inanimate characters to be given visual realization. Particularly successful were Fire (delivered with impeccable coloratura by Kathleen Kim) and the Princess (Kim again, in more purely lyrical mode), as well as the infallible ragtime pairing of the Teapot (Piolino) and Chinese Cup (Elodie Méchain). Soprano Khatouna Gadelia excelled as the moody Child, following his trajectory — from willful destructiveness through connective engagement and suffering to empathy — with skill and charm, not least in vocalism that was consistently delicately proportioned and thoughtfully colored.
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