tue 23/07/2024

L'enfant et les sortilèges, VOPERA, LPO, Reynolds online – Ravel and Colette reimagined | reviews, news & interviews

L'enfant et les sortilèges, VOPERA, LPO, Reynolds online – Ravel and Colette reimagined

L'enfant et les sortilèges, VOPERA, LPO, Reynolds online – Ravel and Colette reimagined

Through the laptop screen and what the child found there, in a brilliant take on a classic

The Child (Amelie Turnage) onstage faces her sternest critics

Colette’s sharply fantastical libretto for Ravel’s second one-act opera imagines wrongs exercised upon objects and animals by a naughty child revisited by the victims upon the perpetrator.

In a giddying venture which may be the most imaginative use yet of circumscribed lockdown days, director and founder of the new Virtual Opera Project Rachael Hewer turns Colette into Carroll, and instead parades a sequence of illogical tableaux set in this time of Coronavirus. That they work so brilliantly is due to artist Pearl Bates's visual sorcery and the further design work of Leanne Vandenbussche as well as the highest musical values from the reduced London Philharmonic Orchestra and a top team of singers – plus a winning protagonist.

That’s Amelie Turnage, nine-year-old daughter of Hewer's partner, composer Mark-Anthony (who advised on the perfect, slimmed-down scoring made by conductor Lee Reynolds, and whose body you see, in vest and pants, with various singers' heads atop). With her thoughts voiced by mezzo Emily Edmonds, her charming bewilderment guides us through the dystopian wonderland contingent upon a fit of fury with the hated laptop upon which she's supposed to be doing her school work. Scene from L'enfant et les sortilegesChildren who don’t know the original might well go with some of the don’t-ask-just-watch changes: a health worker on an NHS ward for the story-book Princess, for instance (Claire Lees and Amelie Turnage pictured above), a conveyor belt of toys in a Covid educational class substituted for the pastoral figures from the ripped wallpaper, or cats (correct) doing yoga (wild - "The Cat"). Some changes are just brilliant: Monsieur L’Arithmetique as a teacher in a news-video overload sequence, and the ribbiting rubbish bins which at first step (or wheel) into roles devised for animals in a garden at night (we get the animals later, in such dayglo brilliance, in a frogs’ Zoom meeting, pictured below, and protesting outside the National Gallery).

The orchestra came together in Blackheath Concert Halls in August, and they make exquisite chamber music, with melting solos especially from flautist Juliette Bausor. The singers, including a substantial chorus, all recorded in isolation and get their heads popped neatly into the enchanted things and beasts. In opera-house performances, there are usually doublings and treblings of roles; this venture provides vital work for a huge cast of singers in lockdown.

Some of the best-known names are here: Karen Cargill, for instance, as Maman, and budding New Zealand tenor Thomas Atkins sneaking in Jacinda Ardern on his iPhone as the teapot and duetting with a china cup who won't be stereotyped: Colette’s nonsense Chinese with its hidden meaning mocking superficial French sinomania is replaced by a new Mandarin text from poet Victor Fong, sung by Jane Monari. Frogs' Zoom meeting in Ravel onlineCrucially, the most moving and ineffably phrased delivery comes from Marta Fontanals-Simmons as the wounded squirrel. After that, we have lift-off for the chorus of reconciliation and Vandenbussche goes into magical overdrive with colleaged photographs of opera-house and theatre interiors making us nostalgic for the real thing. The child’s on stage, alone, the animals briefly people the seats, then – back to mother, and reality. It's hard to believe that it was only in February that children of all ages were responding to the equal fantasy of Gerald Barry's Alice's Adventures Under Ground at the Royal Opera House. In the new era of clamorous streaming, this is one that demands your immediate attention.

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