Review: L’heure espagnole, Glyndebourne Festival, Monday August 6

L'enfant espagnole
L'enfant espagnole

SEXY, shimmering and spirited – Glyndebourne Festival draws to a close with the most sensuous, magical and haunting performance of the season.

Maurice Ravel’s L’heure espagnole (first performed at the Paris Opera-Comique in1911) and L’enfant et les sortileges (Theatre de Monte Carlo in 1925) reflect the shattering disintegration of the old guard and the dawn of an expressionist era when things that could not be said, done or expressed before, suddenly could.

L'enfant espagnole

L'enfant espagnole

Both spell the end of the era when a vocalist simply stood on stage in a posh frock and intoned the words. Both demand superlative standards of acting, dance and imaginative staging.

I loved Ravel as a teenager until sniffy friends told me I had ‘Listen with Mother’ taste in music.

Well mother and child have now grown up and suddenly the composer’s lush, colouristic string and flute-led phrasing has become fashionable again.

These are operas where the instrumentalists never play second fiddle to the stage performance.

L’heure espagnole tells the tale of Spanish watchmender Torquemada (Francois Piolino) and his insatiable wife, Concepcion (saucily played by Stephanie d’Oustrac with a ton of flounce.) As Torquemada goes to tune the town’s clocks Concepcion plays hostess (that’s one word for it) with various lovers who take turns to hide from their rivals in matching grandfather clocks. The very French farce sees Concepcion asking unexpected visitor, the muleteer Ramiro (Elliot Madore) to move the clocks from room to room. Of course in his final visit upstairs, no clocks are involved.

So much to say and so little space, but staging – as ever here – is immaculate with ticking, striking and chiming clocks galore, a stuffed, lifesized bull and bicycle with wheels that span at appropriate moments.

Le’enfant et les sortileges is another kettle of poissons – an explosion in a child’s magic set. Naughty boy (Khatouna Gadelia) refuses to do his homework, smashes his teacup, rips pages out of his story book, shouts at his mother, tears the wallpaper and imprisons small creatures.

In haunting, radiant sequences the abused objects take their revenge. Giant easy chairs come to life; a Chinese cup and saucer dance (Chinese characters appear as supertitles and we were told they were very rude;) a grandfather clock rolls across the stage sobbing at the loss of his pendulum; the fire springs out of the fireplace and – in the most enchanting sequence of all – the countryside characters from his Toile de Jouy wallpaper (Glyndebourne chorus) come to life.

In the garden live, moving trees; luminous glow-worms, a dragonfly, a flying bat, a squirrel and a frog unite in a desire for revenge. There is also an astonishingly explicit dance between a tom cat and his mate – no need for imagination there.

Finally the animals withdraw and the boy sees his mother’s welcoming profile in a backlit window.

I note the double bill was last performed at Glyndebourne in 1987 in a production designed by Maurice Sendak.

Well the wild things were loose in the Downland countryside last week and will be re-appearing nightly until August 25 – well worth tracking down a ticket or two for a post Olympian treat.