L'Heure Espagnole; L'Enfant et les Sortilèges
Kim, d'Oustrac, Gadelia; Shrader, Piolino, Madore, Gay; London Philharmonic Orchestra, Glyndebourne Chorus, Ono. Production: Pelly. FRA 508, 103 mins., subtitled
Ravel's two one-act operas in theory seem to be natural partners for a double bill, but they don't really have much in common. A huge orchestra is used in colorful fashion for L'Heure Espagnole. It's an exquisite score, but it isn't much of an opera. In this production from Glyndebourne in 2012, it serves mostly as an opportunity for a breakout performance from baritone Elliot Madore. As Ramiro, a big lug of a muleteer, Madore looks the role to perfection. (He has the build of a hockey player.) But he also sings beautifully. In "Voilà ce que j'appelle une femme charmante," he perhaps even finds more depth than the score provides. Stéphanie d'Oustrac, the Concepción, could probably have given us the portrayal of her character found in Ravel's music — a charming, worldly woman who could easily carry on a marriage and two extramarital affairs if only the men involved were not so obtuse. But in Laurent Pelly's production, which hardly amounts to more than blocking, she is played as petulant, desperate and out of her depth. Pelly apparently believes that a "production" is made merely by setting an opera in a period other than the one in the libretto. (Here, we're in 1970, with Gonzalve a hippy-dippy flower child.) Conductor Kazushi Ono revels in the orchestral riches, catching the slinky quality in Gonzalve's "En dépit de cette inhumaine" and finding one great climax in the score.
In the companion work, L'Enfantet les Sortilèges, a huge orchestra is again used in colorful fashion. But here it is lavished on Colette's libretto, which is a heartbreaker and a tiny masterpiece. In Barbara de Limburg's designs, the opera opens in spectacular fashion. The child is sitting on a giant chair at an impossibly large table. The table, in fact, is so large that it can serve as an entire stage for the singers portraying the teapot and cup. (The audience applauds, drowning out Ravel's delicate and perfect music at curtain rise. I had thought such indefensible boorishness only occurred at the Met.) The production has a hard time topping this opening image, although clever use is made of the back of the chair, which becomes the bars of the Princess's cell, and Madore returns as the Grandfather Clock, his flailing arms turning into the hour and minute hands. Khatouna Gadelia makes an enchanting Child. With a choppy haircut, the sort that your mom might give you herself, she is utterly believable. She also sings a poised "Toi, le coeur de la rose." D'Oustrac returns as an excellent Squirrel. Kathleen Kim is a sweet-voiced Princess. If her solo as Fire lacks legato, this is no doubt because she is repeatedly being hoisted on a cantilever.
Ravel wrote his most extraordinary page of music for L'Enfant, which is saying something. It occurs after the Cat duet, when, in Colette's words, "the walls of the room part, the ceiling disappears and the child finds himself transported to the garden, lighted by the full moon and the pale afterglow of the sunset." Pelly puts his scene change before the duet, and it is impossible to imagine that a director who listened to the music could ever stage the scene that way. Moreover, Ravel carefully notated gradations of sung pitches, semi-sung pitches and spoken rhythms. Much of this is simply ignored here. There are things to enjoy in this double bill, but it isn't exactly Glyndebourne's finest hour.
WILLIAM R. BRAUN
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