RAVEL L’Enfant et les Sortilèges. l’Heure Espagnole
L’heure espagnole was premiered at the Opéra-Comique in 1911, coupled with the first Parisian production of Massenet’s Thérèse. L’enfant et les sortilèges came much later (Monte Carlo 1925, Opéra-Comique 1926), since when the Ravel pieces have often – but not always – been yoked together. Glyndebourne first staged the pair in 1987 in productions by Frank Corsaro conducted by Sian Edwards and Simon Rattle respectively.
The first bouquet for this splendid new L’heure espagnole must go to Caroline Ginet and Florence Evrard, the designers of the set. Torquemada’s shop is unbelievably cluttered. As well as any number of clocks, there are boxes, a bicycle, a table with an anglepoise lamp, and a washing machine with a clock-face on the drum. There’s also a near life-size model of a bull, a useful prop when Ramiro describes how the watch he has brought in for repair once saved the life of his father, a toreador.
The costumes, designed by Laurent Pelly and Jean-Jacques Delmotte, are wittily appropriate, especially those for Concepción’s two admirers: Gonzalve, the absurd poet, wears a floral shirt, a scarf and orange trousers; Don Inigo, the pompous banker, is in a grey three-piece suit. As Concepción, a gift of a role, Stéphanie d’Oustrac exudes sauciness and barely suppressed desire by turns. Perhaps Elliot Madore slightly overdoes Ramiro’s gaucheness; the would-be lovers are finely drawn, though, and there’s a touching cameo from François Piolino as the hapless husband. The LPO and Kazushi Ono tuck in to Ravel’s parodies with gusto. The 1987 production has a period setting, with an all-French cast save for Anna Steiger’s sexy housewife.
Barbara de Limburg’s set for L’enfant et les sortilèges gets a round of applause from the audience, as the Child’s perspective is established by the enormous size of his desk. After the brief appearance of his mother, the scale reverts to the norm (insofar as the term is appropriate for objects and animals represented by human beings). The Child, so odious for most of the opera, is taken by Khatouna Gadelia, who does infant sulking to perfection.
Laurent Pelly directs the dizzying succession of scenes with a sure hand. There’s a little more fizz in the Arithmetic scene in the earlier production designed by Maurice Sendak, with projections of the numbers jumping about; but, really, either recording will provide enormous pleasure.