Granados's piano pieces the Goyescas are hardly very dramatic, so it's surprising that the opera he made partly out of them is as dynamic as it is. The slender plot doesn't help, involving just four characters in some flirtation, jealousy, a love scene and a murder. It has been only rarely staged in this country and Friday saw its first Prom performance, with minimal posturing – for that was all – failing to elucidate proceedings. The chorus (the BBC Singers) tended to dominate, together with the orchestra (the BBC Philharmonic under their new conductor Gianandrea Noseda), for roughly half of the 11 scenes, and finally left the stage to Rosario and her lover, sung rather woodenly by Cardiff Singer of the World, the Romanian tenor Marius Brenciu. He was the one soloist who hardly attempted to relate dramatically to the others, and was most convincing when he faded away in Rosario's arms. Fortunately, Rosario herself was taken by a splendid young Chilean soprano, Angela Marambio, whose strong and perfectly even instrument is surely going to take her far. She also suggested a powerful mixture of pride and ardour. Sarah Connolly as the popular, mischievous Pepa and Brett Polegato as the flirtatious Paquiro hardly registered very vividly, but that was perhaps not their fault, and they got to do much more after the interval.
At a modest 65 minutes, Goyescas still seemed too long for its dramatic content, and although this performance was given in the revised orchestration by Albert Guinovart, it wasn't particularly colourful. However beautifully Marambio sang, La Maja y el Ruiseñor is more evoc-ative in its original form for piano. The woodwind chirrupings sounded crude and clumsy.
How to make magic with woodwind was shown in Ravel's L'Heure espagnole, which filled the second half of the programme. Based on a farcical play by Franc-Nohain, this is a work of both dramatic and musical genius, in which the voices really move the action forward, mainly in a speaking style (with the exception of Gonzalve, a would-be poet), while the orchestra virtually embodies events with some truly stunning effects, both comic and descriptive. Here, Brett Polegato came into his own as the hunky muleteer and looked good enough to make you wonder why Sarah Connolly's Concepción didn't whisk him into her bedroom sooner. For her part, she seemed briskly practical, and her French was good.
Charles Castronovo was well cast as Gonzalve – comically weak and absurd – while the huge figure of the bass, Peter Rose, suited Don Inigo Gomez very comfortably. It was a happy touch to have the diminutive Jean-Paul Fouchécourt as Concepción's unsuspecting and obliging husband Tor-quemada. Noseda address-ed both operas with great energy and some elegance.