Maurice Ravel is famous for his symphonic music and his enormous talent for orchestration, but he also wrote two operatic jewels. "L´heure espagnole" is a picaresque comedy written in 1907 (though premièred in 1911) about Concepción´s failed attempts to induce into action two would-be lovers, a flighty poet and an elderly suitor, until she decides to opt for a muscled and forthright muleteer; the Spanish hour of the title refers to the time lapse she has for herself every week when her old husband, a watchmaker, goes to maintain Toledo´s municipal clock. The music is fresh and sprightly and it lasts less than the hour, only 46 minutes.
Many years later, the symbiosis of a great writer, Colette, with the composer, gave us "L´enfant et les sortilèges" ("The child and the sortileges"). It is defined as a lyric fantasy and is completely "sui generis"; you will look in vain for parallels, this work is unique. In fact the original idea began as early as 1917, when Jacques Rouche, Director of the Paris Opera, suggested to Colette a fairytale show with Ravel´s participation. It was to be a "divertissement" called "Ballet for my daughter". But the war and other circumstances delayed the project and changed its character.
With a renewed libretto and Ravel´s most refined technique and inspiration, the opera was finally premièred at Montecarlo on March 1925, conducted by Victor De Sabata and with choreography of no less than George Balanchine. The Colón first appreciated it in 1944 conducted by Albert Wolff , produced by Josef Gielen and with stage designs by Héctor Basaldúa; this was also seen in 1945. It was also presented in 1950 produced by Otto Erhardt. My own experience up to then was the old 78 rpm recording conducted by Ernest Bour. I saw it in 1964, conductor George Sebastian, producer Louis Erlo; and then in 1973 and 1975, conductor Antonio Tauriello, producer Oscar Figueroa. After that, silence. To compensate, the model recordings of Ernest Ansermet and Lorin Maazel gave me much joy.
This is a fairy tale of such subtlety that it needs for its full comprehension an intelligent child approaching puberty or an adult with sensibility. The only way to offer it with its full splendor is with the original orchestration. Nevertheless, in 1991 at the Teatro San Martín it was seen with an adaptation by Didier Puntos for four-hand piano, cello and flute. This was revived later on, and was used this year by the Colón Institute of Art for two performances at the Teatro 25 de Mayo on Avenida Triunvirato. I¨ll be quite frank, I don´t like it: most of the time my inner ear was discarding what I heard and listening to the Ravelian myriad palette. I know why they do it: it is a matter of reducing costs, but you pay an artistic price.
However, there is an attenuating factor that makes me look at the enterprise as having merit. The Taller de Integración Operística (TIO) assembles all the careers of the Institute and the workshops of the coöperative. The Direction of the Institute proposes an opera as the special project; this goes to the Career of Operatic Stage Production; the students present their proposals and their working group. The winning project is supervised by the teachers of the Institute but their realisation is in the hands of the students. And that is what gives this version of "L´enfant et les sortilèges" its very particular character and worth.
These are the winners: producer, Mariana Ciolfi; stage designers, Zacaría Gianni and Josefina Lettieri; costumes, Luján Assad. They are all students. On the musical side, Emmanuel Siffert coordinated well the choir prepared by Marcelo Ayub, the abundant vocal soloists, the pianists Ayub and Sebastián Achenbach, the cellist Jorge Pérez Tedesco and the flutist Claudio Romagnoli. A vast list of students helped with the stage designs, the costumes, the hairdressing and the characterisation.
And how did it come out, considering that the production of "L´enfant..." is very difficult? Rather well. To tell it succinctly, this is the story: a boy isn´t behaving, his mother punishes him; he rebels and goes on a rampage breaking things and hurting animals. And lo, objects come into life and interact, animals speak and complain or cats meow amorously; there are two continuous tableaux, one in the house and the other in the garden; in the final minutes there´s a general row, the boy is hurt but cures a squirrel; the boy says one word, "maman", and the choir of animals sings it too; the sortileges are broken and the boy returns to his house and mother.
Jazzy humor, pastoral evocation, a deranged clock, the Mathematics, the book Princess the boy reveres, the courtship of armchair and chair, the fire that threatens the child, the dialogues of the animals...all in 43 minutes of enchantment. The house was geometric and had doors and other apertures facilitating the action; the costumes were deliberately grotesque and childish: some worked and others didn´t; there were caricaturish animal masks. The action was agile and well handled, except some details of the general row.
The singers were advanced students. I especially liked Constanza Díaz Falú as a very florid Fire; Cecilia Pastawski as the Child; Mauro Di Bert as the Mathematics; Augusto Nureña as the Armchair and the Tree; and Trinidad Goyeneche as the Mother and the Dragonfly.
My proposal for the Colón 2017: both Ravel operas (last done together in 1964!) separated by the ballet "La Valse"; and the vastly delayed première of "Les Troyens" by Berlioz.
For Buenos Aires Herald