Review: Ravel’s “L’heure espagnole” by Mid-Wales Opera at RWCMD by Roger Barrington

 

(4.5 / 5)

 

Mid-Wales’s bold production of “L’heure espagnole” strikes home on every note.

Musical director Jonathan Lyness, who also plays piano, has arranged the score for a reduced orchestra, of only four musicians, including himself. The objective is to be able to take the production to smaller venues, that wouldn’t be able to house a larger orchestra. It works a treat as the four musicians, all of a high standard, provide a superb balance to the singing, wondering why Ravel didn’t write it in this way.  Mind you, I wouldn’t like to take on a composer, renowned for his orchestration ability.

“L’heure espagnole” is a one-act comédie musicale first performed at the magnificent    Opéra-Comique  in Paris on 19th May 1911,  and is based upon a play presented seven years earlier.

Libretto is by Franc-Nohain after his play.

Considered to be highly improper at the time, the story is based in 18th-century Toledo, Spain,  where bored Concepcion wife of clockmaker Torquemada, entertains her lovers every Thursday for an hour, whilst her husband leaves home to regulate the town’s clocks.  The resultant chaos after mule-driver Ramiro arrives at the shop to have a watch repaired just at the wrong time, is typical of high-farce.

Ravel’s Spanish score with its mechanical cuckoo clock and ticking metronomes in the prelude, in part disguises the fact that Ravel intended the opera to be more Italian buffa than French operette. 

The singing is uniformly excellent and all the actors display impressive comedic acting skills. All young singers, they represent a wealth of emerging talent and are building up impressive cv’s.

The costumes add to the visual comedy. Concepcion (Catherine Backhouse – mezzo soprano) scarlet woman as she is, dons a costume of that colour.

 

 

Nicholas Morton, (baritone) as Ramiro has carrots draped around him, representing his occupation as a muleteer conveying vegetables. I particularly liked his hat with two carrots protruding upwards like ears, thereby resembling the features of the animal he is working.

 

 

Anthony Flaum, (tenor)  as Gonzalve, Concepcion’s poet lover, dressed in a white suit, indicating the purity of his love in poetry.

 

 

Then there is stout banker Don Inigo Gomez, (Matthew Buswell – Bass-baritone) daubed in his jacket with banknotes attached.

 

 

Finally, we have the unfortunate husband Torquemada, (Peter Van Hulle – tenor) with his cloak of many clock faces.

 

 

Director/Designer has put together  truly marvellous set, that you can see from some of the mages on display here. The enlarged clock face, big enough to represent the concealment of the lovers, (in the plot hiding in grandfather clocks), are a revelation. It is a rich warm looking design and it embellishes the plot to perfection.

It is impossible to fault this production. It dazzles and pleases  and its English translation is funny and witty. I can thoroughly recommend this and urge anyone interested in opera, (and even those who are merely curious) to pay the modest admission price to see such a high standard production.

The performance that I attended was BSL supported.

Unknown to me, when I made my travel arrangements. if this wasn’t sufficient entertainment, there is a second half that consists of Spanish flavoured arias and showpieces. Sadly, I was unable to watch this, but if it is half as good as “L’heure espagnole” it will be well worth seeing.

 

 

 

Roger Barrington

Running time: around 2 hours

The production continues its run at a number of venues throughout Wales and English border towns until 7th December 2018. Details can be found here.

https://www.midwalesopera.co.uk/productions/lheureespagnole/

Photo credits: Matthew Williams-Ellis

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