L'heure espagnole/ L'enfant et les sortilèges, Glyndebourne, East Sussex
Tête à Tête Opera Festival, Riverside Studios, London
The Francis Bacon Opera, Camden Arts Centre, London
Glyndeborne's double bill of Ravel operas captures the composer's delicate touch and ability to combine laughter and pain
Sunday 12 August 2012
Loosely translated as "Spanish time", L'heure espagnole, suggests a semi-Tantric deferment of erotic abandon. Every nation has preconceptions about other nations' sex lives, particularly when those other nations enjoy a warmer, disinhibiting climate. Yet the conceit of Ravel's Spanish comedy, now playing at Glyndebourne in Laurent Pelly's double bill, depends on time-keeping that we British would characterise as Swiss in its efficiency. For all the vampish Hispanic chromatics and butch, glittering percussion, it is the tick of three clocks that dominates the French composer's score.
Concepcion (Stéphanie d'Oustrac), the adulterous heroine of this slender 45-minute sex farce, is as time-conscious in her pursuit of bliss as any well-to-do Parisienne engaged in a cinq-à-sept affair. Rebuilt from Pelly's Opéra de Paris production, Caroline Ginet's 1970s-styled set suggests a life of domestic chaos for the frustrated clock-maker's wife. Suspended from the pendulum of a cuckoo-clock, her wedding dress hangs like a relic. A contagion of gaudy automata spreads from the dusty workshop: a ticking Last Supper, a nodding skeleton, a car whose headlights flash expectantly, a washing machine with a clock face in its door, a jamon strung above a mountain of laundry. Whip-thin in her black negligee, D'Oustrac prowls the stage like the cat she will become in the second opera in this Ravel double bill, L'enfant et les sortilèges.
It is a treat to hear L'heure played under a conductor, Kazushi Ono, whose interest is as much in the delicacy of Ravel's orchestration as it is in the musky cravings of Concepcion and her differently disappointing suitors: the peacock-like poet, Gonzalve (Alek Shrader), the plump banker Don Inigo (Paul Gay), and the ageing husband (François Piolino) whose bespectacled eyes see more than Concepcion suspects. The musical textures are crisp. But Pelly's comedy is broad. Elliot Madore's muscle-bound Ramiro grins at the audience, as though inviting us to wink back at him, and the wistfulness that Richard Jones identified in his Royal Opera House production is absent. L'heure passes in a flurry of double entendres and sight gags, without a sense of accumulation into weeks, months, years of loneliness.
Pelly is more tender in L'enfant et les sortilèges, newly staged for Glyndebourne and designed by Barbara de Limburg in a cavalcade of Architects' Ball monochromes and Magritte greens. Between L'heure espagnole and the first performance of L'enfant, war had maimed Europe and the perfect happiness of Ravel's early works could be recaptured only fleetingly. Even his 1913 Piano Trio – played impeccably at the Cadogan Hall, London, by Jennifer Pike, Nicolas Altstaedt and Igor Levit in Monday's lunchtime Prom (PCM 4) – suggests a painful nostalgia. But in L'enfant's tantrums and dreams, that lost innocence is addressed directly. Khatouna Gadelia's short-trousered Child contends with sulky Chairs (Gay and Julie Pasturaud), a priapic Teapot and gibbering Arithmetic (Piolino), a chorus of limpid toile de Jouy shepherds and an aggrieved menagerie before learning to consider the pain of others, courtesy of the Squirrel (D'Oustrac). The London Philharmonic Orchestra plays elegantly under Ono, the flimsy Spanish sex farce and surreal fantasy becoming something wise and kind.
With so many eyes on the Games, Tête à Tête's annual festival opened with a sense of beleagueredness at the Riverside Studios, Hammersmith: Ergo Phizmiz's bite-sized opera for soprano, baritone, cello and vibes, Caring in the Community, fought with Roger Federer and Andy Murray for a Sunday afternoon audience. The contrast level was high – from Jacques Cohen's conservative monodrama for soprano and string quartet (Marie Vassiliou and the Piatti Quartet), The Lady of Satis House, to Elvis Herod and The Gang of Rogues' chaotic Mike the Headless Chicken, and Chroma's wafer-thin Instant Doodle Opera – but Roger and Andy prevailed.
The future of new opera looked healthier at Camden Arts Centre on Wednesday, where Stephen Crowe's Francis Bacon Opera previewed to a crammed house. A staged transcript of Melvyn Bragg's 1986 South Bank Show interview, Crowe's comedy had the rare quality of making people laugh with the music as much as the words, as pianist Genevieve Ellis's splintered figures offered their own acerbic commentary on an increasingly bibulous conversation about beguilement, realism and sensation between Bacon (Christopher Killerby) and Bragg (Oliver Brignall).
Ravel double bill (01273 813813) to 25 Aug; Tête à Tête (020-8237 1111) to 19 Aug; 'The Francis Bacon Opera', St Columba's by the Castle, Edinburgh (edfringe.com), 19-27 Aug
The London Sinfonietta gives a pocket history of Modernism in works by Ligeti, Berio, Xenakis and Andriessen in the Late Night Prom 44 at the Royal Albert Hall (Tue), while BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra’s Prom 47 (Fri) celebrates the music of John Cage. At the Edinburgh International Festival, Leif Ove Andsnes gives a morning piano recital at the Queen’s Hall (Thurs) and Charpentier’s David et Jonathas opens at the Festival Theatre (Fri).
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