Ravel at his most playful - a farce and a nightmare.
darragh o'donoghue | 07/04/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"There aren't nearly enough farces in opera, and 'L'heure Espagnole' is one of the funniest, as well as one of the weirdest. It's been called Feydeauesque, but that's Feydeau rewritten by Hoffmann - instead of hiding in cupboards or running in and out of bedrooms, the various inadequate lovers conceal themselves in clocks carried up to the amative wife's bedroom by a dim, but brawny muleteer. The music is a delight, Ravel revelling in his beloved Spanish idiom, and creating wonderful comic effects with a huge orchestra used with the lightness of a pencil. Most astonishing is the recreation of a clock shop, with its conflicting rhythms, parodying the necessity of time in music by creating an amiably arhythmic din. The opera is also a neat satire on the bourgeoisie, with an apparently hoodwinked clockmaker profiting from his wife's infidelities.If 'L'heure' is a satiric farce, than 'L'enfant et les sortileges' is a fantasy and a nightmare. A sullen brat is grounded for not doing his homework. In a violent fit he vandalises his bedroom. Frighteningly, shards of the household gods come to life, taunting, abusing and inflicting dreadful violence on the boy. Colette's wonderfully playful libretto has been called a Disneyesque morality tale, but the sadistic relish with which the boy is made to learn his lesson has the cruelty of older, European traditions. Highlights include the jazzy ire of a broken teapot, the harrowing fragmentation of a princess and her fairy tale, and a gloriously Ravelian recreation of a magical garden, full of wonder and violence. The music is a Miro painting come to life, all wit and colour, strange sounds and shapes: enigmatic, scary, delicious.The fillers are approrpriate to each opera and point to the Russian influnece on Ravel - Rimsky-Korsakov's rollercoaster 'Capriccio Espagnole' and Stravinsky's berserk ballet 'Les Chants de rossignol', with its tantalising hints of 'The Rite of Spring'. Anyone familiar with Maazel's later, rather stodgy art will be amazed by his youthful fizz here, and the miraculous singing stretches all expectations of the voice's capabilities."
Wayne A. | Belfast, Northern Ireland | 04/07/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"When one comes across recordings like this there's always a risk of hyperbole. As simple as possible: these are exciting, inspiring, near-perfect performances of the Ravel operas. The engineering matches in quality. If you like Ravel, if you like opera, or if you're just curious about what a "near-perfect" performance sounds like then jump at this set. Also, the fillers are equally stunning. I've never heard (or even hoped for) a Capriccio Espagnol as striking as the one included. This collection, along with DG's release of Maazel's Firebird and El Amor Brujo (in this same series--and also great) has prompted a re-examination of earlier recordings by Lorin Maazel. Thanks DG and...Wow!"
Wonderful recording of a wonderful show
Adelaide | Sarasota, FL, USA | 11/24/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I was in a production of 'L'enfant...' last year, and was unable to find the recording in any of our local music stores. I finally found it, and it was worth the wait, especially coupled with Ravel's other work.
It's my favorite opera by Ravel, who is in turn my favorite composer.
Bewitched by the bewitched child
Homiski | 08/24/2000
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Ravel's two operas focus on the world of the child and it is perhaps where his influence will be felt the most. Musically he is able to capture a melodic line in all of its simplicity and amplify and back it up with orchestration unrivaled in his day. It is imaginitive and sparkles, like the passage in "L'enfant" where he has the strings in successive glissandi to imitate the sound of cats meow-ing. It is easy to see how influential he was on composer Oliver Knussen who set his opera to Maurice Sednak's "Where the Wild Things are" in the mid-1980s. The recording under Maazel is clear and crisp and would recommend this one over the new Previn one because you get BOTH of Ravel's operas. IF you do not have a recording of Ravel's Ma Mere L'oye (Mother goose Suite) then that one is probably the best bet. BUT the BEST recording of the Mother Goose Suite hands down is still Boulez w/ Berlin Philharmonic (and that comes with a bunch of other orchestral goodies)."
One of my top 50 classical albums
D. Jack Elliot | Omaha, Nebraska | 08/24/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This album has a place on my top fifty list; it's one that deserves a place in any and every collection once you've gotten through the first round of Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven must-haves. The Ravel operettas are marvelous, and unlike anything else in the repertoire, and the two orchestral suites are required listening. All of this is music that came out of Paris in the early 20th century, when Paris was the artistic capital of the world; it's a welcome change, then, to (as the French have so quaintly put it) leave out the "sauerkraut" -- as the large majority of first-rate classical music has been so distinctly Teutonic -- and immerse yourself in Gallic styles and forms.
The one piece of these four that I do not find completely captivating is L'heure espagnole. I don't think this little operetta works very well on record: it strikes me as an opera of recitatives -- no arias, no big hummable tunes -- so that without seeing it staged you're missing so much of the content. The orchestral writing is subtle and colorful and the story is highly amusing, but again the music doesn't work so well on its own.
L'enfant et les sortilèges, on the other hand, is above criticism as performed here. I have an unreserved admiration for this opera. Quinessentially Ravelian melody and orchestral writing, wonderful characters, far-reaching thematic contrast and expressive range: this one has it all.
As for the orchestral pieces, Capriccio espagñol is a minor work next to L'enfant et les sortilèges and Chant du rossignol, but if you like Scheherezade you'll like Capriccio espagñol as well, and the Berlin Philharmonic's reading is first-rate. And this is easily my favorite performance of Stravinsky's Chant du rossignol. I know the Boulez/NYP recording, Oue/Minnesota, and Reiner/Chicago, but Maazel breathes fire and drive into the score that outdoes all of those."