Ravel: L'Heure espagnole; Puccini: Gianni Schicchi

ONP Bastille, Tuesday May 22 2108

L'Heure espagnole
Conductor: Maxime Pascal. Production: Laurent Pelly. Sets: Florence Evrard, Caroline Ginet. Lighting: Joël Adam. Concepcion: Clémentine Margaine. Gonzalve: Stanislas de Barbeyrac. Torquemada: Philippe Talbot. Ramiro: Jean-Luc Ballestra. Don Inigo Gomez: Nicolas Courjal.

Gianni Schicchi
Conductor: Maxime Pascal. Production: Laurent Pelly. Sets: Florence Evrard, Caroline Ginet. Lighting: Joël Adam. Gianni Schicchi: Artur Ruciński. Lauretta: Elsa Dreisig. Zita: Rebecca De Pont Davies. Rinuccio: Frédéric Antoun. Gherardo: Philippe Talbot. Nella: Emmanuelle de Negri. Betto: Nicolas Courjal. Simone: Maurizio Muraro. Marco: Jean-Luc Ballestra. La Ciesca: Isabelle Druet. Maestro Spinelloccio: Pietro Di Bianco. Amantio di Nicolao: Tomasz Kumiega. Pinellino: Mateusz Hoedt. Guccio: Piotr Kumon. Orchestra of the Opéra National de Paris.

I was told, by someone who's usually right, that Stéphane Lissner explained he replaced K. Warlikowski's production of Parsifal after it had only had a single run (see my recent report on Richard Jones's new production) because it was going to be ten years old. Laurent Pelly's production of this double bill, which I'd never seen before, was first staged in 2004. Just sayin' as the saying goes in Arizona.

And very enjoyable the evening was. In my experience, Pelly generally does a better job with comedy than serious works. His production is fairly simple and straightforward and done with a light touch, not laying the gags on thick as some I can think of might. It basically links the two pieces visually, through assorted bric-à-brac.

In L'Heure espagnole, a patchwork curtain of gaudy prints, the full width of the Bastille's very wide stage, is drawn slowly aside to reveal, first, on the right, Torquemada's shop, decorated with clocks of every conceivable vintage shape and size. As it continues to glide, mountains of junk appear, even climbing the walls: furniture, appliances, lamps and light fittings, clothes, pictures, more clocks, musical instruments, road signs, fans, a Virgin, a crucifix, buckets, basins and bowls, bicycles and bicycle wheels, a stuffed bull, a car almost buried under piles of second-hand goods... (Like a low-class version of Zeffirelli's Turandot: everything including the kitchen sink.) Steps rise to a balcony (with a discarded toilet bowl on it) leading to Concepcion's bedroom: through the doorway we see fancy, deep red wallpaper. At various points, objects come to life: clock hands turn, lights flash on and off, wheels turn... The characters are nicely marked by the costume and wig departments: Concepcion in a flowery "housecoat" over a satin slip, Gonzalve in a flowery shirt spread wide open over a hairy chest and gold chain, and bright orange flares, Ramiro an amiable simpleton in wide, stiff, half-mast trousers and a beret, Don Inigo fattened up with a body suit under his grey three-piece... The acting was well-rehearsed and, as I said, was nicely judged, humorous while avoiding corny gags and slapstick.

The same was true of the seedy, Fellini-esque Donati family in Gianni Schicchi: distinct characters, detailed action, nicely managed. Here, the set was initially less cluttered: an assortment of used wardrobes, kitchen cabinets and sideboards lined up against a dark blue wall, patterned wallpaper to the sides, an equally mis-matched line-up of chairs (now the fashion in hipster cafés worldwide), and Buoso's bed in the middle. Later, the blue wall would rise to reveal a bristling Florentine "cityscape" of cupboards and clock-cases, and by the end, the house had been thoroughly trashed by the indignant family: chairs overturned, cupbaord doors open, sheets and clothes and pillows strewn across the stage.

The cast was a coherent team with no major inconsistencies. The revelation for me was Clémentine Margaine. As Carmen, I'd found her disappointing - somehow uneasy in the part. Here she was splendid, her voice ample, complex, warm... So now I understand what the fuss is about. Perhaps as Carmen I'd caught her on an off night. Artur Ruciński was a remarkable and vocally resounding bête de scène. Nicolas Courjal was also especially impressive. Elsa Dreisig played an aptly youthful Lauretta and managed her oft-mangled hit aria (it seems a popular choice for kids, male or female, to massacre on talent shows) sweetly, if a bit "plain vanilla".

It would have been interesting to see and hear Vittorio Grigolo for the first time, but I somehow contrived to be there on the only evening he was off, replaced by Frédéric Antoun. I like Antoun but vocally he's a bit short for Rinuccio at the Bastille. I imagine Grigolo would have had more radiance, more éclat. Under Maxime Pascal, new to me IIRC, the orchestra was fairly well-behaved, though at some brief moments I thought the pit was about to lose the stage.

It was lovely to have these two works back again after many years. I didn't even see them 14 years ago, as I said, so it may well have been 25 years or more. As I also said, it was a thoroughly enjoyable evening: an unpretentious success - followed by steak and chips and a Crozes-Hermitage.

Grigolo had better watch out: there's serious competition from Maestro Wenarto.


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