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A CurtainUp Berkshire Review
L'Enfant Et Les Sortilèges
(The Child and the Enchantment)
(The Spanish Hour) The operas performed by the Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra Tanglewood Music Center Vocal Soloists each year are a too rare, too short treat. With just two fully staged performances this is of necessity a remembrance of things past.
This season's program, a double bill of two short and well-mated operas by Ravel, were well worth forsaking the comfort of Ozawa Hall to which Tanglewood regulars have become accustomed. The seats and sloped floor of the old Theater Concert Hall may be a little hard on the body but the pieces which the composer correctly tagged as "musical comedy" rather than opera, are decidedly easy on the ears and eyes. Conductors Robert Spano and Seiji Ozawa and directors Marc Astafan and David Kneuss coaxed superb performances out of the musicians. John Michael Deegan and Sarah G. Conly's sets splendidly underscore the fantastical elements of each story. With a different cast of performers at each performance, I can only report on the cast I saw all of whom acted as well as they sang. However, my take was corroborated by feedback from knowledgeable music lovers who attended a dress rehearsal or the first night.
Having just seen a revival of August Strindberg's A Dream Play, (linked below) I was particularly taken with the opening "musical", L'Enfant les Sortilèges. This story of a little boy (sung by a coloratura Erin Smith when I attended) whose tantrum leads to a dreamlike episode as fantastic as the events of that play. It is staged here with the same sort of cutting edge visual sensibility as the BTF play. A bratty youngster makes a shambles of his bedroom after being grounded by his mother for not doing his homework and the abused objects come to frightening life to teach the boy a lesson. One of the highlights of this musical nightmare is a jazzy musical duo -- a broken teapot and a china cup consoling each other as they tease the boy. There's also the harrowing threat of flaring fire prevented from damage by a cinder; also a beautiful princess emerging from the torn book which has aborted the happy ending of her story. With the libretto written by that well-known cat lover, Colette, there is of course a cat to adding strange and delicious Ravelian sounds.
This musical dream began as a ballet and has often been more realistically staged, but this abstract black and white set with no attempt to have the characters costumed to match the objects and animals they represent struck me as ideal. The BUTI chorus, positioned at each side of the stage contributed greatly to the overall musical excellence.
It's too bad that the Festival program couldn't have found room for an afternoon performance for children with just this half of the bill. This opera has, in fact been paired on a recording of the Nederlands Dans Theater with Prokofiev's children's classic Peter and the Wolf and is an ideal introduction to the genre.
The second feature, L'Heure Espagnole, shows off Ravel's penchant for Freydou and things Spanish. True to its farcical genre, it has a fair share of doors behind which people comically hide -- in this case the doors are all part of the giant clocks of the clockmaker Torquemada. The action takes place on a day when Torquemada is off to regulate the municipal clocks, leaving wife Concepción to juggle her lover and would-be lover, with the first annoying muleteer, Ramiro, ending up the winning suitor. Maestro Ozawa briskly shepherded the singers and orchestra through the enjoyably ridiculous proceedings that end with Torquemada's return on a moral right out of Boccaccio. '
Les Mamelles de Tirésias performed at Tanglewood several seasons ago
A Dream Play at Berkshire Theatre Festival through August 4th.