Tits and Clocks

Ravel
L’heure espagnole [Sung in French]

Ramiro – David Alexandre Borloz
Torquemada – Oliver Kuusik
Concepcion – Daniela Lehner
Gonzalve – Rafael Vásquez
Don Inigo Gomez – Javier Borda

Poulenc
Les mamelles de Tirésias [Sung in English]

Theatre Director – David Stout
Thérèse – Elizabeth Bailey
Her husband – Benjamin Segal
Monsieur Lacouf – Gediminas Varna
Monsieur Presto – Loïc Guguen
A gendarme – Jérémie Lesage
A newspaper seller – Geneviève King
A journalist – Eyjólfur Eyjólfsson
A son – Rafael Vázquez
An elegant lady – Christina Haldane
A woman – Katherine Broderick
A man – Tom Oldham

Orchestra
Clive Timms

Director – Stephen Langridge
Designer – Gideon Davey
Lighting Designer – Simon Mills
Choreographer – Rose English

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Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 24 February, 2005
Venue: Guildhall School of Music & Drama, London

Once again the Guildhall School of Music and Drama has come up trumps – not only in the choice of repertoire but with the high standard of performance.

Unfortunately, aspects of the production of “L’heure espagnole” disappoint. The opening of this one-act opera, concerning the regular Thursday ‘entertaining’ by Concepcion of men other than her clockmaker husband, should be a beguiling mix of ticking, tocking and chiming, not a digitally soulless click-clack sound, which itself shouldn’t, as it does here, intrude into the first words uttered. Ravel, a composer often likened to a watchmaker, would have known craftsman-built timepieces, ones with gears and cogs, and this sort of effect should be what one hears. Decca managed it for Ernest Ansermet’s 1954 recording, so here’s another example of digital retrogression. The flashing green and red lights on the unappealing clock-cases (the time shown never changing) are also pointless and irritating. Furthermore, the stage lighting, while not really too bright, is too intense and needs toning down. And is Torquemada still into horology? It seems he’s repairing battery-operated rabbits! And the squeaking noise of these things later into the opera does not sit well with Ravel’s exquisitely realised music. Doing something different for the sake of it, and being trendy, lets the production down.

Musically, everything is fine, impressive in fact. One could suggest that Daniela Lehner, for all her pleasing voice, isn’t quite involved enough as the ‘playing-away-at-home’ Concepcion or quite as ruffled as she needs to be when two of her lovers are in situ at the same time and with Ramiro (who should be a muleteer but looks like a mechanic) being lined up as a third. Particular vocal honours to Javier Borda who looks and sounds the part as a suave banker. Excellent playing from the orchestra under Clive Timms, the dance rhythms and the long lyrical lines buoyantly and tenderly expressed, Ravel’s colours rendered beautifully subtle.

Don’t worry about the plot (if that’s the word) for “Les mamelles de Tirésias”; just enjoy 55 minutes of surrealism. Here the production works very well because anything goes (although one had already tired of scooters in English National Opera’s “Siegfried”) in a stage-work that is, here, consistently diverting. The gendarme is straight out of “Allo, Allo” (although he has gained an ostrich!) and the score itself is a delightful mix of risible, heart-touching and popular ideas, a nod to Offenbach and, if one wanted to be erudite, the tight organisation and soundworld of Stravinsky.

As for Tirésias’s mammae, breasts, or the four-letter word used in this review’s title, they are but balloons and actually aren’t around for long as Thérèse (Teresa, actually, as this rendition is in English: Thérèse would need two musical notes, but we had three for “Teresa” … surely no tinkering with the score!) turns into a man and her husband produces 40,000 babies and holds them aloft as if here were Michael Jackson. On dodgy ground!

Oh, just go and see it. The spirited playing under Clive Timms is a joy and the whole rendition speaks of true excellence. Elizabeth Bailey, Benjamin Segal and Jérémie Lesage should be mentioned in dispatches – but this really is a team effort and is another triumph for the GSMD. Some roles are double cast in both works; these performers are on again on the 28th.

  • This review is of the first night
  • Further performances at GSMD on 26 & 28 February and 2 March at 7 o’clock
  • Tickets from Barbican Box Office – 020 7638 8891
  • GSMD

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