Ravel L'Enfant et les Sortilèges; L'Heure Espagnole
Frank Corsaro’s 1987 productions of Ravel’s one-act operas met with a somewhat mixed critical reception. Maurice Sendak’s pop-up children’s-book-style sets may have seemed somewhat simplistic then but they have survived the years successfully and now have a charming period feel. L’heure espagnole boasts two singing actors who understand the limitations of camera close-ups. As Concepcion, Anna Steiger is wonderfully deadpan, and she sings her aria, “Oh! la pitoyable aventure” with a nice combination of sensuality and tension. François Le Roux is the muleteer with little conversation but unquenchable energy, and when he realises that the clockmaker’s young wife is interested in him as a lover rather than a furniture-remover, his look of eager anticipation leaves one in no doubt that he is going to be equal to his new task. Rémy Corazza as Torquemada directs the action from the clock tower, and this includes three dancers who mime some clockwork figures. Sian Edwards conducts, with keen attention to all Ravel’s use of Spanish dance rhythms.
L’enfant et les sortilèges is the greater challenge, and the camera is not always kind to Cynthia Buchan’s attempts to impersonate a little boy. Corsaro has added a silent prologue, in which we see what a tiresome brat this one is. Once the action gets going, though, there are many amusing details, such as the leapfrog antics of Thierry Dran and his crew, François Loup and Hyacinth Nicholls as quite aggressive armchairs, and Anna Steiger again, now as the Squirrel, who sings one of Ravel’s most enchanting melodies.
Some of it may seem a little too literal, and the wonderful moment when the child goes out into the garden doesn’t have the air of mystery that was so well caught in the famous Hockney-Dexter production at the Met a few years earlier (will this appear on DVD? I hope so). The fireflies portrayed by small children waving sparklers are an inspired touch. Simon Rattle conducts a performance somewhat freer in spirit, I thought, than his more recent effort with the Berlin Philharmonic. There are some nostalgic shots of the old Glyndebourne theatre, which anyone who remembers it will enjoy.