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Ravel, L’heure espagnole and L’enfant et les sortilèges. Soloists / RCM Benjamin Britten International Opera School orchestra / Michael Rosewell. Britten Theatre, Royal College of Music, London. 24.06.06. (ED)

 

 

Ravel’s two operas provide a rich vein of musical and dramatic material for any company to tackle. The differing natures of the plots and scale of the works (in terms of number and range of roles) contributes to this in no small measure.  Yet it is also interesting that both works can be staged around the central idea of a dream, creating symmetry in performance when they are given as a pair. Jean Claude Auvray’s productions for the RCM Benjamin Britten International Opera School exploited this possibility most profitably, creating a common framework whilst allowing each work its own individuality.

 

L’heure espagnole makes demands on the performers that can easily be under-estimated. Each of its five roles is a formidable challenge vocally. There are many moments of wit within the plot and there is a temptation for it to dissolve into farce, but this clearly must not happen. Some measure of seriousness should be maintained: a fine line must be trod. This Auvray’s production succeeded in doing to a large extent. His direction emphasised an apparent normality in the situation of a frustrated wife fending of her three amorous suitors behind her husband’s back. It was given a subtly comic edge by Num Stibbe’s set of jauntily angled clocks and Wojciech Dziedzic’s bold costumes.

 

As Concepción, the woman at the centre of the entangled affair, soprano Pumeza Matshikiza found a boldness of character that moved from determination to disappointment with ease. Her pliant voice caught most of this, even if her diction tended to be a little too approximate. Torquemada, her husband, was suitably obsessed with his clocks. Shaun Dixon brought comedy and annoyance in equal measure to the role of Gonzalve. His acting proved as effective as his singing in these regards. Philip Shakesby’s Don Inigo Gomez frustrated both Concepción and Gonzalve with his antics, and the dry side of the character’s humour was exploited. Huw Llywelyn’s Ramiro left one in no doubt as to why Concepción eventually makes it upstairs with him sans clock. Physical looks he undoubtedly has, but so too a voice that proves equally appealing. In the pit, Michael Rosewell led an account of the score that brought out many of the individual flavours within Ravel’s writing yet occasionally missed a little of the score’s panache.

 

L’enfant et les sortilèges replaces earthy pleasures of the flesh with a childish sense of wonder and mischief, as the child dreams inanimate objects that he has abused come to life  take their revenge. Auvray had obviously worked long and hard with the cast to get them ‘inside’ inanimate objects, suggesting at their essential qualities without being overly prescriptive in the process. Dziedzic’s brilliant succession of costumes complemented Auvray’s view of the work to dazzle the audience. Few professional companies mount productions that display such respect for the essence of the work whilst being inventive with it.

 

The production lacked for nothing in Rosewell’s advocacy of the score: it was fluid, direct and possessed of winning musicality. That the cast picked up on this was only too evident as the work’s series of near cameo roles were given with distinction throughout. Praise could be lavished on each singer in some respect for the characterisation that was achieved, but a few stand out. Kim Sheehan as The Fire brought out some menace in the high-lying part and not a little sadness too as her flames died out. Eliana Pretorian, in the double roles of The Princess and The Nightingale, found a distinct voice for each and characterised The Princess as much through poise as voice. Simon Lobelson and Sigríđur Ósk Kristjánsdóttir, as the black and white cats respectively, brought out the playfulness and athleticism within their roles, with some wonderful feline vocalisations thrown into the musical lines. There is no doubt though that the performance of the opera (and the evening as a whole) was given by Patricia Helen Orr as The Child. The depth to which she immersed herself in the role was notable as was the sense of fascination with which the action around her. Vocally, her performance was strong and given with much attention to nuances of the emotions of the music. When L’enfant et les sortilèges is performed at this level there can be few more uplifting experiences for the opera-goer. Bravo, BBIOS!

 

 

Evan Dickerson


 



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Contributors: Marc Bridle (North American Editor), Martin Anderson, Patrick Burnson, Frank Cadenhead, Colin Clarke, Paul Conway, Geoff Diggines, Sarah Dunlop, Evan Dickerson Melanie Eskenazi (London Editor) Robert J Farr, Abigail Frymann, Göran Forsling, Simon Hewitt-Jones, Bruce Hodges,Tim Hodgkinson, Martin Hoyle, Bernard Jacobson, Tristan Jakob-Hoff, Ben Killeen, Bill Kenny (Regional Editor), Ian Lace, Jean Martin, John Leeman, Neil McGowan, Bettina Mara, Robin Mitchell-Boyask, Simon Morgan, Aline Nassif, Anne Ozorio, Ian Pace, John Phillips, Jim Pritchard, John Quinn, Peter Quantrill, Alex Russell, Paul Serotsky, Harvey Steiman, Christopher Thomas, John Warnaby, Hans-Theodor Wolhfahrt, Peter Grahame Woolf (Founder & Emeritus Editor)