fri 19/07/2024

L'heure espagnole, Grange Park Opera online review - seduction and sandwiches in 60 minutes | reviews, news & interviews

L'heure espagnole, Grange Park Opera online review - seduction and sandwiches in 60 minutes

L'heure espagnole, Grange Park Opera online review - seduction and sandwiches in 60 minutes

Ravel takes a Kensington lunchbreak, in an operatic updating for the YouTube generation

Clocking off: from left, Elgan Llŷr Thomas (Gonzalve), Catherine Backhouse (Concepción) and Ross Ramgobin (Ramiro) in 'L'heure espagnole'Grange Park Opera

Some production concepts seem so obvious, in retrospect, that you wonder why they haven’t been tried more often. Traffic hums in the foreground in the opening shots of Grange Park Opera’s new film of Ravel’s L’heure espagnole, the passing cars reflected in the window of an antique clock dealer’s store.

Ticking fills the soundtrack as we dive inside, like Mr Benn entering his magical shop; at the same time, the piano sounds Ravel’s perfumed opening chords. Reality or fiction? Opera or documentary? Torquemada’s clock shop is apparently genuine, and the setting could be any 21st century high street smart enough to have antique shops and artisanal bakers, and where deliverymen – instead of punting your parcel over the garden wall and stuffing a "You Were Out" card through the door – are happy to hang around and help you rearrange the furniture. 

The UPS man doesn’t need to ring twice in Stephen Medcalf’s engaging and imaginative Youtube production – part of Grange Park’s ongoing digital "Interim Season". It’s all filmed in Kensington, apparently (more usually Opera Holland Park territory) but the score was recorded in the Wigmore Hall – avoiding the acoustic shortcomings of site-specific opera and allowing Medcalf and a perfectly chosen cast to make this into the kind of one-off minidrama that Channel Four used to slip into the schedules, long ago, as a kind of televisual experiment. It’s delightful and utterly engrossing: we see the clockmaker Torquemada (Jeffrey Lloyd Roberts) messily devouring a truly majestic sandwich, crumbs and mayo smooshed all over his beard. Draw your own conclusions about the state of his and Concepción’s marriage. Under Medcalf’s direction, it’s very much her story – with Catherine Backhouse, dressed to impress, rolling her eyes and delivering wry asides straight to camera, Fleabag-style.Grange Park Opera's L'heure espagnoleIt’s full of these little touches of playful unreality. Gonzalve (Elgan Llŷr Thomas) swings from a traffic sign like Gene Kelly in Singing in the Rain; Concepción’s trapped and deluded would-be-lovers sing dolefully through the faces of a pair of grandfather clocks. And Ross Ramgobin, as Ramiro – the shorts-wearing, rollup-toking parcels courier who gets to deliver more than he ever intended – lifts up each of those clocks in turn, balancing them on a single finger and flashing a cheeky chappie smile straight at an admiring Backhouse. I’ve never seen a dull performance from Ramgobin, a baritone who can float his handsome upper notes as seductively as any tenor. And with such good recorded sound, you can hear Backhouse’s bright, focused voice melt in response; one of those little moments in opera where everything comes together but it’s the singing that really sets you tingling.

In fact, there isn’t a weak vocal performance here – whether Robert’s genial Torquemada, the fluid phrasing and Gallic tang of Thomas’s dapper-sounding tenor, or Ashley Riches, as Don Iñigo, launching a declaration of passion with something akin to a snarl of masculine pride before tapering off into something altogether more winning. Medcalf and his company hit every beat with clarity and charm, while Chris Hopkins, playing Ravel’s score at the piano (there’s also a trumpet, briefly, plus a few castanets and chimes for emphasis) fills each passing moment with lightly worn sensuality and precision tooled wit. No-one’s really a villain in this piece – whose subject, surely, is the joy of life and the unquenchable sweetness of the moment, even as clocks tick onwards on every side. Ramiro can’t believe his luck, Concepción hasn’t mussed her hair, and the two frustrated suitors have at least acquired a couple of highly collectable timepieces. Even Torquemada gets his sandwich. There are worse ways to beguile an hour. 


Sure it's well done, but really - Ravel without an orchestra? VOPERA and the LPO gave us the full L'enfant et les sortileges - no doubt at some expense - and it was superb.

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