In 2012 Glyndebourne staged an interesting and contrasting double bill of Ravel one-acters in productions by Laurent Pelly. The first was L’heure espagnole. It’s a sort of Feydeau farce set to music. The plot is classic bedroom farce with the twist that most of the doors the lovers come in or out of belong to clocks. Concepción is the bored wife of a nerdy clockmaker. She’s not overly impressed by her two lovers; a prolix poet and a smug banker, who show up while hubby is out doing the municipal clocks. She’s much more taken by the slightly simple but very muscular muleteer who spends most of his time lugging lover infested clocks up and down stairs for her. Pelly wisely takes the piece at face value and brings off a mad cap forty five minutes timed to the split second.
There are some splendid performances led by Stéphanie d’Oustrac’s fiery and bootilicious Concepción. It’s a brilliant study in sexual frustration. Canadian baritone Elliot Madore starts off goofy as the muleteer Ramiro but gradually becomes more knowing as things hot up. The mountie always gets the girl right? Alek Shrader (Almaviva in this season’s COC Barber of Seville) is the annoying poet Gonzalve and is convincingly full of himself preferring, when offered Concepción’s charms, to versify upon them rather than, you know, the obvious. Paul Gay is equally convincing as the equally self important Don Inigo Gómez and François Piolino rounds things out as the practically oblivious clockmaker Torquemada. Ravel’s extremely colourful and atmospheric score is beautifully played by the London Philharmonic and Kazushi Ono does a great job of making sure that pit and stage are in synch; no mean feat with all the comings and goings. All in all it’s very silly but hugely enjoyable.
The second piece, L’enfant et les sortilèges, to a libretto by Colette is rather different in tone. It’s a sort of fairy tale about a rather unpleasant little boy who vandalises things and tortures small animals until they come to show him the error of his ways at which point (in typical French fashion?) he runs back to mummy. Pelly is, I think, a master of this sort of material and here he sets the piece in a world of outsize things, i.e. scaled to how the boy sees them. Short scene follows short scene at almost breakneck pace and with a bewildering range of characters but Pelly finds a distinct “look” for each scene. The fire scene is particularly spectacular.
The boy is brilliantly portrayed by Khatouna Gadelia, herself the mother of a four year ld boy. The rest of the cast is huge and most of them are double or triple cast. Kathleen Kim is particularly fine in a trio of coloratura roles and Eliott Madure and Stephanie d’Oustrac again get together though this time in feline form. There are two many other fine cameos to list in detail. Again one feels that Kazushi Ono is very much in sympathy with what is happening on stage and gets very beautiful and well timed playing out of his orchestra.
Video direction is by François Roussillon and it’s very good. We get to see what Pelly is doing with the overall staging coupled with judicious close ups in, for example, the scene where a very angry Concepción is expressing her frustration with life and men. The picture on DVD is pretty good, even in the more darkly lit scenes, but the Blu-ray would probably be a better bet. Sound (stereo and DTS) is vivid and realistic. The rather lavish multilingual brochure has synopses and detailed track listings. There are bonus features with cast and crew for both works and they are definitely worth seeing.
This disk justifiably won The Gramophone Best Opera DVD in 2014.
John thanks so much for this review. This is going to be on my next order. I have never understood why these two works are not performed more often. I first saw them many years ago in a production by the late New York City Opera in a production designed by Maurice Sendak and it was enchanting.
I’d only seen L’heure espagnole before in a Conservatory production coupled with Bizet’s Dr. Miracle. It seems to me there is a general reluctance to program one act operas and I’m not really sure why. This may call for a post!
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