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Sunday 19 August 2012

Ravel double bill at Glyndebourne


What a treat. I'll have to have a think and a look back over my blog, but as a knee jerk reaction, this maybe the best thing I have seen this season. Certainly it is amongst the top five.

Ravel's operas are both perfect gems, refined, glimmering, bijou masterpieces, the comedic foil and light counterpoise to Debussy's glowering masterpiece in the genre. And so Ravelian! Even more than might be said of most of his music, there's a strong feeling that these pieces are self portraits of some sort, reflecting precisely the character, interests, humour, mores and quiddities of their creator. The gentle joy of creation emanates from every bar.

Laurent Pelly is probably the most visually stylish director in opera at the moment, and having seen five of his productions now I have never been anything less than awed at his visual sense. There's always the feeling while watching his productions that however imaginative and quirky his ideas, that he's just got it so right in every way, and it seems difficult to imagine things being done better, or even otherwise. He knows what he likes and what he's good at too, focusing on the French repertoire, usually comedies, often in the margins of the repertoire.

L'heure Espagnol is a farce set in a clock makers shop in Spain, with an unfaithful wife who has her fun while her husband is out on an errand. The set is wonderfully simple - a wall of clocks and clutter and gubbins, with a single staircase and a shop counter, providing a slightly manic backdrop for the silly antics of the plot. I did think that a lot of the comic acting was a bit broad and unsubtly done, and the end was a bit facile, but largely it delivered the laughs required, and it just looked so good.

L’enfant et les sortilèges was even stronger. The old Glyndebourne production was a little literal and mundane, but here Pelly presents us with a nightmarish phantasmagoria of freakish objects come to life, so beautifully and disturbingly characterised and presented that we become the child, and feel his fear as our own. The way each of the short scenes erupts into the visual field and then fades into the blackness of the stage only to be replaced by another gives it the feel of a Disney montage on acid. For those that still want to see it, I don't want to ruin anything, but it was superbly done.

Great singing is really not the point of these operas, and they provide scant opportunities for singers to show off their voices (they really don't need star singers). While none of the voices here were exceptional, all were excellent and did full justice to the score - an excellent ensemble achievement. The real magic was happening in the pit with Kazushi Ono and the London Philharmonic Orchestra, who shimmered and hummed, dazzling us with Ravel's score, every effect well considered and lovingly executed. Unfortunately the nervous titters of the audience, laughing any time that anything happened on stage (as is so often the case with operatic comedies) obscured much of the finer detail of the orchestral tapestry, but it couldn't mar ones enjoyment too much of what was a magical evening. 


  1. While I admire Ravel’s operas I really don’t like it when they are compared (in any way) to the astonishingly beautiful melodic, harmonic, rhythmic and coloristic inventions found in Pelleas et Melisande – one of the absolute wonders of Western music.

  2. They are very different to Pelleas as I say, but they offer the most exquisite examples of the other side of French opera - light hearted, sentimental, funny, insouciant, naively touching - where Debussy's represents the apogee of the brooding, perfumed, languorous, dreamily erotic side of French opera.