RCM Ravel Double Bill

L’heure espagnole

Conception, wife of Torquemada – Pumeza Matshikiza
Torquemada, clockmaker – Ben Johnson
Ramiro, muleteer – Huw Llewellyn
Gonzalve, bachelor – Shaun Dixon
Don Inigo Gomez, banker – Philip Shakesby

L’enfant et les sortilèges

L’Enfant – Patricia Helen Orr
Mother Maman / La Tasse Chinoise / La Libellule – Stephanie Lewis
La Bergère / La Chouette – Rebecca Goulden
La Théière – Alistair Digges
La Feu – Kim Sheehan
La Princesse / Le Rossignol – Eliana Pretorian
L’Arithmetique / La Rainette – Ben Johnson
L’Horloge / Le Chat – Simon Lobelson
Le Fauteuil / L’Arbre – George Matheakakis
La Chatte / L’Ecureuil – Sigríður Ósk Kristjánsdóttir
La Chauve-Souris / Une Pastourelle – Ida Falk Winland
Un Pâtre – Joanna Tomlinson

Benjamin Britten International Opera School
Royal College of Music Opera Orchestra
Michael Rosewell

Jean Claude Auvray – director
Um Stibbe – set designer
Wojiech Dziedzic – costume designer
Mark Pritchard – lighting designer
Terry John Bates – choreographer


Reviewed by: Nick Breckenfield

Reviewed: 24 June, 2006
Venue: Britten Theatre, Royal College of Music, London

In the common parlance of the time (should anyone be reading this review way past the event itself, perhaps I should remind that this production fell amidst the World Cup), this was a ‘game of two halves’. While “L’heure espagnole” was rather restrained and just a touch contained (like the England football team, yet to show full promise), “L’enfant et les sortilèges” was like Argentina: a goal-scoring machine.

That, of course, is partly to do with the works. The earlier ‘Spanish Hour’ (started 18 years before ‘The Child and the Spells’ was completed) somehow constrains the French farce tradition (all that climbing in and out of grandfather clocks by Concepción’s lovers in the hour when her husband, the clockmaker, is out checking the municipal clocks!), so that you’re left with the feeling that it should be much funnier than it actually is.

Nevertheless I liked the bold, black-and-white design by Um Stibbe, with a Dali-esque clock rising from the stage-floor and, folded at a right angle, up the back wall, complete with other, off-kilter clocks. The cast was in black and white too, save Concepción in her red flamenco-style dress and the muleteer Ramiro’s red braces. No doubting who was the red-blooded pair in this production! And, in fact, it was Pumeza Matshikitza and Huw Llewellyn in these two roles who fared best, although I also liked Shaun Dixon’s bachelor, more concerned with his rhyming couplets than writhing copulation…

Ben Johnson, artificially aged with enough talcum powder to create a snow-scene in summer, was the only one of the principal cast to appear in a named role in “L’enfant et les sortilèges” and very witty his arithmetic teacher was, followed by black ninja numbers. Here costume designer Wojiech Dziedzic had a field day, with only the armchair and the lady’s chair not quite as evocative as the rest of his creations.

I particularly liked Simon Lobelson’s floppy-faced Grandfather Clock and his doubling as the black cat against Sigríður Ósk Kristjánsdóttir prowling white cat, before she changed from white to ginger to become the squirrel, whose injury eventually instils in the child some compassion. The teapot and the Chinese cup’s Charleston-like dance were as delightful as Patricia Helen Orr’s child was wilful, but my own favourite was definitely Kim Sheehan’s Fire; so simple an idea, but brilliantly – if not illuminatingly – effective.

Once again the basic set was black-and-white; here the outline of a house opened to unveil a creepy forest of twisted branches as if sketched. Director Jean Claude Auvray, as with “L’heure espagnole”, started with the main protagonist in bed and the ensuing opera took the form of a dream, or rather, a nightmare.

But just as evocative as the set in creating an enchanted atmosphere was the orchestra which ravishingly played Ravel’s colourful scores under the vivid direction of Michael Rosewell (Anne-Marie Granau takes over for the last performance of ‘Child’). Given the diminutive size of the Britten Theatre, hearing such scintillating orchestral performances of these scores in such a space was a constant aural delight.

And a note too about the programme, with its witty cartoon of some of the operas’ characters on the cover, courtesy of James Murphy, completing another great night at the opera school – with Monteverdi’s “L’Incoronazione di Poppea” due in November and, next year, “Le nozze di Figaro”.

Self-recommending, really!

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