Prom 18: Love Is All Around


Rosario – Angela Marambio (soprano)
Pepa/Voice – Sarah Connolly (mezzo-soprano)
Fernando – Marius Brenciu (tenor)
Paquiro – Brett Polegato (baritone)

BBC Singers

L’Heure espagnole

Concepción – Sarah Connolly (mezzo-soprano)
Gonzalve – Charles Castronovo (tenor)
Torquemada – Jean-Paul Fouchécourt (tenor)
Ramiro – Brett Polegato (baritone)
Don Inigo Gomez – Peter Rose (bass)

BBC Philharmonic OrchestraGianandrea Noseda

Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse

Reviewed: 2 August, 2002
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

Continuing the Spanish theme in this year’s Proms season was a double-bill of operas often referred to but not often played. Goyescas has long suffered from having been adapted by Granados from his masterly series of piano evocations – but, as Gerald Larner pointed out in the programme note, there’s little doubting the technical skill with which the composer effected the transformation.

At a dramatic level, however, there are problems. The first two tableaux are both dominated by extensive choral passages, from which the solo contributions emerge in passing rather than being the focal point. This gives the work more the feeling of dramatic cantata rather than opera, reinforced by the uniform pacing of action and orchestral writing which – even in the clarified revision expertly carried out by Albert Guinovert – is secure but rarely scintillating.

Yet the ’Intermezzo’ between these tableaux shows how sensitive an orchestrator Granados could be, while in the third tableau the work’s operatic credentials really come into their own. Rosario’s famous scene ’The Maja and the Nightingale’ persuasively mingles sensuousness and anxiety, while the ensuing duet with her lover Fernando, his fatal wounding at the hands of the toreador Paquiro and the closing ’death scene’ are stock situations handled tastefully and without affectation. Clearly Granados’s potential in the operatic sphere was cut short by his untimely death in 1916.

Angela Marambio’s poetic Rosario complemented Marius Brenciu’s proud and reckless Fernando, with Brett Polegato a darkly sinister Paquiro and Sarah Connolly an alluring Pepa – whose deviousness sets the tragic chain of events in motion. The BBC Singers made the most of their substantial contribution, while Gianandrea Noseda conducted attentively and expressively. If the merits of Goyescas are more relative than absolute, it has sufficient worthwhile music to be worth revival.

Whereas Ravel’s L’Heure espagnole is a masterpiece of theatrical resource and lightly-applied humour. The sexual element is overt but hardly blatant, and – thanks to Franc-Nohain’s play, which needed only minimal adjustment – the ’timing’ of events unfolds evenly across the work’s 50-minute span. And time, both chronometrically and experientially, is what this ’comédie musicale’ is all about – from the opening evocation of the clock shop (a pity that the well-intentioned clock sounds obscured something of Ravel’s subtle harmonies and cross-rhythms), through the farcical ’ups and downs’ of the grandfather clocks, to the ’all’s well that ends well’ dénouement. Ravel may have written deeper and more affecting works, but none more purely pleasurable.

The performance did it justice both scenically and musically. Brett Polegato was a bluntly sympathetic Ramiro, the mule-driver who gets much more than he bargained for, and Sarah Connolly brought wit and sophistication to the part of Concepción. Jean-Paul Fouchécourt amused as the poetic hack Torquemada, his uncoiling vocal lines effectively souped-up. Charles Castronovo sent up the aspiring official Gonzalve with winning understatement, and Peter Rose made a characterful Don Inigo Gomez. Noseda had the measure of Ravel’s typically fastidious orchestration, and ensured that the ’moral’ of the final ensemble was given with due irony.

A regrettably small audience for a double-bill as rare as it was effective. With Stefan Janski’s discreetly humorous ’choreography’ an additional plus-point in the Ravel, this was an entertaining evening that deserved a far higher level of support – as well as giving favourable notice of the BBC Philharmonic’s rapport with their incoming Principal Conductor.

  • BBC Radio 3 re-broadcast Wednesday, 7 August, at 2 o’clock

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