|Cast of Ravel's L'enfant et les sortilèges at Alice Tully Hall|
What a treat! Last night the Juilliard Orchestra was joined by members of the Vocal Arts Program for an evening of French music, the capstone of which was Ravel's short opera L'enfant et les sortilèges. Although the program notes suggest a somewhat different origin, we had always believed that this work was intended as a ballet for the Paris Opera but wound up as an opera, with ballet sequences choreographed by none other than George Balanchine. There is no disagreement about Colette's authorship of the libretto. The work made its premiere in 1925 at the Opéra de Monte Carlo.
Until three years ago we had never seen it performed but then enjoyed two performances in close temporal proximity, one by Utopia Opera and shortly afterward as the initial work by Bare Opera. We became an instant fan of this delightful work with its charming story and eclectic score.
That the members of the Juilliard Vocal Arts Program were able to capture the spirit of the work on a very narrow strip of stage in front of the Juilliard Orchestra seemed a minor miracle; the miracle worker must have been the director Edward Berkeley. Credit for the brilliant reading of this enchanting score goes to Maestro Emmanuel Villaume whose feeling for French music is in his genes. But credit for the performances must be shared by the cast of singers whose ensemble spirit could only be realized by a lot of time spent rehearsing.
Heading the cast was mezzo-soprano Kelsey Lauritano who made a very convincing naughty boy, one of those children whose destructive energy emerges when they are given insufficient stimulation, at least that was our conjecture! Ms. Lauritano never hits a wrong note, not vocally and not dramatically. We wanted to jump up onstage and hold her down!
The role of the mother was sung by Myka Murphy who has a very different sort of mezzo and we hear a definite contralto in the making. We couldn't keep from fantasizing about the roles she will take down the road from now.
Soprano Onadek Winan was glorious in her coloratura in all three roles: Le Feu, La Princesse, and Le Rossignol.
Baritone Xiaomeng Zhang always impresses us with his fine tone and phrasing; he excelled as the wounded tree and as Le Fauteil in his duet with La Bergère (performed by soprano Anneliese Klenetsky who handled the scale passages with aplomb).
Another successful duet was that of the two cats. Mezzo-soprano Nicole Thomas and baritone Gregory Feldmann had a rather sexy catfight until they turned their attention to Maestro Villaume who played along in a most sportsmanlike manner. Mr. Feldmann was also memorable as the broken clock, holding his arm askew as the pendulum.
Mezzo-soprano Kady Evanyshyn made an adorable Chinese tea-cup with tenor Matthew Pearce as the teapot, spouting a pidgin Asian mix, accompanied by tuba.
Tenor James Ley made quite a strict arithmetic teacher, known in the script as Le Petit Veillard. Soprano Kresley Figueroa had a sweet duet with mezzo-soprano Marie Engle as a pair of country folk from the torn storybook.
It seemed that for the second part, every cast member took on another role as an animal, with soprano Vivian Yau standing out as a bat whose mate had been killed by the naughty boy. The chorus added to the overall effect.
Quite in tune with this week's theme of behavioral change and redemption (see two prior reviews below) the bad boy of the first part is confronted in the second part by critters he has injured. He is transformed and the audience is satisfied by a successful conclusion to the story. The critters forgive him and so do we.
Although we rarely review instrumental works, it would be churlish not to mention how successfully performed were the two works in the first half of the program. Ravel wrote his Menuet antique when he was but twenty years of age; it took him 34 years to orchestrate it! And what an incredible orchestrator he was. Someday we would love to hear the original piano version followed by the orchestral arrangement.
We very much enjoyed Debussy's La mer although the programmatic nature of the piece escaped us. Without being told that it was about the sea, we would not have guessed it. What stood out for us were the orchestral colors. First cellist Matthew Chen gave a stunning performance and we also enjoyed the harp and celeste. No doubt about it, the Juilliard Orchestra rules!
(c) meche kroop