Ravel Double Bill, Glyndebourne, August 2012

This wonderful pairing of two Ravel operas is a must-see, with L’heure espagnole showing the erotic machinations of a clockmaker’s wife, and L’enfant et les sortilèges the fearful consequences felt by a child who breaks the regular structure of his life.

All images Simon Annand

For anyone who has seen the elegant minimalism of Covent Garden’s L’heure espagnole, Glyndebourne’s Laurent Pelly production — based on his earlier work in Paris — is a refreshing change, showing a Rabelaisian world of clocks and knickknacks, well suited to the ad hoc scheming of the clockmaker’s nymphomaniac wife Concepción. It all starts with the sound of clocks ticking in the auditorium and hands whirling around in the clocks on stage. So many clocks, so little time, and Concepción is desperate for a bit on fun on the one day a week her husband goes out to adjust the town clocks. It was all hugely enjoyable, and Stéphanie d’Oustrac was a perfect Concepción, prettily pert and sexily seductive, with a beautifully expressive voice.

Elliot Madore as Ramiro

When her would-be lovers, an ineffective poet and an absurdly desperate but equally ineffective banker, have failed to measure up, she turns for serious satisfaction to the muleteer Ramiro, brilliantly sung and acted by Elliot Madore. Full of simplicity and eager charm, he was very funny in his handling of the grandfather clocks, and the small role of Concepción’s husband was very well played by François Piolino. Ravel’s complex and imaginative score for this delightful farce was brought to life by Kazushi Ono and the London Philharmonic Orchestra, and they and most of the singers returned after the interval for L’enfant et les sortilèges.

This brief opera with its cleverly imaginative libretto by Colette is a small masterpiece, and Laurent Pelly’s new production with set designs by Barbara Limberg matches it beautifully. Khatouna Gadelia gave a convincing performance of the boy, looking so small and insignificant compared to the vast furnishings of the room. Compelled to do his homework, and put on short commons when he fails to complete it, he feels so powerless he breaks all the rules, upsetting the balance of forces that secure his place in the world, until the fire in the grate threatens him and he quietly cries out J’ai peur. The turning point towards the end is when he calls out Maman! All the trees spin round, and the huge reaction from the animals and objects that he has anthropomorphised shows that they too feel powerless, seeing him as good and wise. Joël Adam’s fine lighting shows sudden warmth, and this wonderful opera suddenly draws to its conclusion.

Music, staging, costumes and lighting bring to life this extraordinary piece of child psychology, all very finely conducted by Kazushi Ono, and Glyndebourne has served its audience well by putting on these two operas.

They make a far better match than Covent Garden’s twinning of Ravel’s L’heure with Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi. Following Ravel’s comedy with the dramatic subtlety of L’enfant is perfect. This was a treat.

Performances continue until August 25 — for details click here.

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