Music and Libretto: Ruggero Leoncavallo
Director: Charles Edwards
L’enfant et les sortilèges
Music: Maurice Ravel
Director: Annabel Arden
Reviewer: Dawn Smallwood
Both operas are part of The Little Greats festival which is made up of six short operas presented by Opera North this autumn. This gives an opportunity for those new to opera as well as seasoned opera fans to experience diverse works. Opera North are well known for its variable repertoire and this festival is no exception, with these two short contrasting operas are presented on selected evenings in the season.
Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci (Clowns) is performed first. During the prologue, Tonio (Richard Burkhard), who appears to be the unofficial narrator, greets the audience and introduces how real the characters in the story are. The staging is modern; actors and singers are rehearsing for a production. One can imagine that the staging could be similar to this production’s actual rehearsal; evident with the curtain backdrop that features the lead singers and chorus of Opera North. The opera uncovers the ‘love triangles’ of Tonio (Burkhard), production designer, in love with Nedda (Elin Pritchard) who is the wife of Canio (Peter Auty), the production director. It also reveals that Nedda is having an affair with Silvio (Philip Rhodes), the music conductor.
Strong themes of infidelity, jealously and ultimately revenge, are explored in the production. The story could not be any more contemporary and dark, yet it is within settings of ordinary people, lying in a similar vein to Puccini’s Il tabarro and Mascagni’s Cavalleria rusticana. It is remeniscent of Verismo, an artistic movement in Italy which encouraged free expression at the end of the 19th Century.
The talented company of Opera North gives a stellar performance and each lead character sings arias with conviction and emotion in portraying the characters within dramatic settings which leads to brutal and explosive tragedy. Set to Leoncavallo’s committed score, Tonio (Burkhard) summaries the plot throughout and at the end he states ‘the performance is over’ after the murders of both Nedda (Pritchard) and Silvio (Rhodes).
Ravel’s colourful and quirky L’enfant et les sortilèges is such a contrast to Pagliacci shown earlier this evening. It tells the story of a child who refuses to do his homework and would do anything not to do it, and acts of unkindness follow after his mother’s reprimand. The child experiences freedom and the spirit of naughtiness until the objects he has attacked suddenly come to life.
One must admire the creativity of its objects, such as life size story book, the talking furniture and the objects who share with the boy how they have been treated. The colourful silhouetted objects compliment the lighting and staging and this is courtesy of Charles Edwards and Hannah Clark for the costumes.
The moral of the story is about a journey from child to adolescent and growing up; disobedience and naivety offers the child the opportunity, amid curses, to explore his identity and experience adulthood. This is evident with the innuendoes are shown from the objects, particularly the tea pot and the cups. The child realises what he has done when he calls for his mother at the end and the call links contextually to life events of the composer.
The French opera certainly is light-hearted, but psychologically serious at the same time, and, unlike the previous opera, it ends all well. L’enfant et les sortilèges is a short opera of approximately 45 minutes, but is action packed and again the Company of Opera North are outstanding in their delivery, particularly Wallis Giunta who sings the character of the Child.
Reviewed on 16 September 2017 | Image: Tristram Kenton