17 August 2015

L’enfant et les sortilèges – NE:MM Review

Image – Samling Academy Opera: Richard Pinkstone and Jacob Robson

L’Enfant – Samling Opera – Sage Gateshead – 31-7-15

By Katie Lodge – NE:MM

There was a fleeting moment at 7.30pm when I wondered what I had agreed to review. Ravel’s ‘L’enfant et les sortilèges’ opens with a bored child being told to get on with his homework by his maman who is preparing to go out. Not exactly a fantastical spectacle! But soon the child has been grounded and is destroying his room before collapsing, exhausted, and then the fun begins.

L’enfant is a very short work which Ravel (music) and Colette (lyrics) managed to cram a lot into by setting up a series of short solos and duets by all the objects and animals affected by the child one after another. In the first part we hear from the grandfather clock, the armchairs, a broken cup and teapot, the fire and the princess from the child’s beloved storybook. And when the action moves outdoors in the second part, all the animals and plants the child has mistreated also chime up.

It is a playful work with great opportunities for individual singers to entertain, given its cabaret-like structure. The fantastical element also demands imaginative designs for the costumes, props and set. Samling Academy embraced these challenges. Hall Two at the Sage became a miniature opera stage with the small band of musicians (piano duet, cello and flute) prominently on stage right, who entered through the audience in their tails as if they were part of the 1920s party going on around the stage before action commenced. The ensemble costumes and props were wonderful – the squirrel, for example, wore a fur stole with bushy tail attached! And the fire had the longest flame coloured cape I’ve ever seen which was held out by extendable arms, allowing her to swish around the stage very formidably. That’s not even to mention the armchairs (with seats cut out and replaced by people), teapot and cup (with incredible hats), the clock, or even just the simple glamour of the women’s flapper dresses.