Ravel double-bill review – inventive, witty ... and unbalanced

Glyndebourne festival
Danielle de Niese commands the stage and there are irresistible moments in both one-act operas, but with differing production values, the evening doesn’t gel as a whole

In Laurent Pelly’s 2012 productions of Ravel’s two one-act operas, the female leads were in different hands. This time, in Glyndebourne’s first revival of Pelly’s performances, Danielle de Niese sings both Concepción in L’Heure Espagnole and the Child in L’Enfant et les Sortilèges. The roles call for very different strengths; sexy vocal allure in the first case, childlike artlessness in the second. The assured de Niese commands them both, as actor and singer, her voice sounding weightier these days. Neither is a conventional star role – and De Niese doesn’t hog the limelight – but she is unquestionably the star of the evening.

Robin Ticciati’s idiomatic and restrained conducting draws some sublime playing of these two fastidiously inventive scores from the London Philharmonic. A largely Francophone cast shares the roles across the operas too, with Étienne Dupuis as a wide-eyed and strongly sung Ramiro in L’Heure and a swanky seductive tabby-cat in L’Enfant. The most vernacular singing of the evening comes from tenor Cyrille Dubois, as the hapless poet Gonzalve in L’Heure. Sabine Devieilhe, in the multiple coloratura roles of Fire, the Princess and the Nightingale in L’Enfant, is equally good.

Amid all this, there is a big problem, however. The two operas receive very different levels of production from Pelly and his team. Pelly’s L’Heure is all excess, the stage crammed, the humour coarse. It tries too hard and insistently to get laughs where there was already plenty to go round and is, as a result, strangely unfunny. L’Enfant, by contrast, is beautifully done, the visual inventiveness witty and simple, with a well-judged balance between dream and nightmare. Pelly conjures some memorable moments, as when the bereft shepherds and shepherdesses lament the Child’s tearing of his bedroom wallpaper. And the opera’s wonderful final moment is, as always, irresistible.


Martin Kettle

The GuardianTramp

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