Everyone knows that here in England, we’re wallowing in a double-dip recession. The longest for decades they say. But there was light on the horizon this week – apparently we’re not in the recession as deep as forecasters had thought. Well hey ho, that’s a positive surely? Things are looking up! And what better way to celebrate this sprightly news than to head along to where all the rich people go – to Glyndebourne Opera, home of the landed gentry, the well-coined and lovers of lavishness aplenty, for none other than a double-dip opera-session! (called such because 1. this is my second visit of the year – I know, lucky me – and 2. we got to see not one, but two operas by Ravel). I know, Ravel – hardly your Puccini or Mozart. But my, what a feast beheld us when we sat down to watch the melodic opus of this operatic genius.
Once we had enjoyed our customary fill of afternoon tea and a stroll around the verdant grounds of Glyndebourne (disappointed however that for the price of half a small car, tea was presented as a Twinings tea bag. Where was my loose leaf? My high tea silver?) we entered the lavishly contemporary wood-clad opera auditorium to watch the first of the Ravel double-bill. L’heure espagnole thrilled from the moment the curtain unfurled horizontally across the stage, revealing behind it a clockworker’s shop with a wall filled to the brim of different sized clocks and other nicknacks, all wonderfully animated so that, as the curtain rolled back to reveal them, the clocks would begin spinning, the skeleton started dancing and dusters started revolving, all on their own, like some kind of enchanted wonderland.
What followed was a perfectly choreographed commedia dell’arte, a typical sexual farce as a clockmaker’s wife attempted (almost) in vain, to make the most of her husband’s one hour’s absence to throughly flirt her way through the town’s male population. But as she found one man too poetically verbose and romantically flighty, she found the robust attentions of another too overbearing. Trying to escape one and have her way with the other, a hilarious scene unfurled as the licentious Concepcion, brilliantly played by Stéphanie d’Oustrac, tried to hide one lover from another, generally speaking in cuckoo clocks, while all the time courting the attention of yet another suitor who at the start of the opera bemoaned his lack of touch with women, but by the end had bedded Concepcion, just in time before her husband arrived back.
My favourite section was the final scene, when back on stage, all five singers threw themselves into a brilliantly mastered harmony, sung in tandem, but each one of them following a differently intricate melody. I also appreciated the devilish symbolism which ran throughout the opera, as the libretto alluded to the winding up of clocks as a symbol of sexual frustration, only for the cuckoo to pop out energetically as a symbol of – well, I’ll let your imagination finish that sentence off. A few dangling pendulums and several shrill cuckoos later, and the opera ended just after an hour of comical gold with some excellent singing and a beautifully played score which evoked the sensual atmosphere of middle-Spain (the opera is set in Toledo) and the ravishing rhythms and visceral textures of that region. What this opera lacked in memorable harmonies, it gained in actorly skill and superb staging – one forgets that opera singers have to act just as well as they sing, and in L’heure espagnole, they were pretty spot-on on both fronts.
L’enfant et les sortilèges
If the evening had ended there, we would have walked away highly satisfied. But after the customary 90 minute interval break, we returned for the second of the Ravel operas and were frankly so stunned by the creative genius of the spectacle which started to play out on the stage before us that my mouth hung open, my partner’s eyes started blinking in disbelief, and for all of us, a suspicion ensued that either the wine during dinner had been sensationally strong or the director’s staging was fantastically good, such was the brilliance and utter incredulity of the surreal spectacular which was embodied by the second opera: L’enfant et les sortilèges.