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Opera Review

Frost Opera Theater presents moving, brilliant staging of Ravel’s “L’Enfant”

Thu Nov 21, 2019 at 1:34 pm

By Lawrence Budmen

Maurice Ravel’s L’Enfant et les Sortilèges was performed by Frost Opera Theater Wednesday night.

In the wake of World War I, Maurice Ravel wrote his operatic fantasy L’Enfant et les Sortilèges. The story of a naughty child who has damaged the furniture in his home and mistreated the animals in the garden before learning compassion and gaining forgiveness, the score is one of Ravel’s most original and unique artistic creations.

On Wednesday night the Frost Opera Theater presented a brilliant new realization of this seldom-performed masterpiece in the intimate Clarke Recital Hall on the University of Miami campus.

Director Jeffrey Buchman has returned the opera to the milieu that produced it .During the so called Great War, Ravel was an ambulance driver at the Western Front. The writer Colette, who began work on the libretto during the conflict, was a nurse in a hospital treating wounded soldiers. Both saw the carnage of the war first hand. Buchman sets the story on the battle field. A mortally wounded soldier experiences flashbacks of his life in his dying moments. The household objects and animals become people he has known, loved and wronged.

Working in partnership with the School of Communications, Buchman has devised nearly an hour of compelling theater that remains true to the spirit of Ravel and Colette’s adult fairy tale. Luz Nidia Castillo’s eye- popping array of costumes fill the stage with color and glamour. Izia Lindsay’s animation and Celso Peruyera’s lighting create a world that traverses fantasy and the darkness of life’s sorrows. The choreography by Rosa Mercedes matches the diversity of Ravel’s score. (The meow-meow of the cat duet was right out of the ballroom world of Fred and Ginger.) Ravel’s score is a sampler of the composer’s varied stylistic palette, the music ranging from glints of impressionism to jazz, tango and more austere modes.

This is one of Ravel’s greatest works and it is well-served by the student forces. The large cast does not have a weak link. As the child (pictured as a youthful itineration of the dying soldier), Mareesa Nosalik cuts a handsome figure with a burnished mezzo that veers from tender to powerful. Adriana Mantilla is striking as the mother. Fierce in declamation as she punishes the child for not doing his homework, her return to the stage is poignant as the soldier sees her vision in his dying moment.

Martha Rose Hayes’s coloratura glitters as much as the backdrop to Fire’s aria, the scene right out of 1950’s Hollywood. As the old man who is the king of arithmetic, Kevin Gwinn is a true showman as he strides the hall’s aisles, his strong tenor potent at the top range.

The Princess’ neo-Baroque aria is phrased in nimble strokes by Melissa Martinez, her voice large and lustrous. Madison Dougherty assays the Nightingale’s rapid trills with pinpoint accuracy. Samantha Taylor’s sang the shepherd’s solo with elegance and a rich timbre. In the non- singing role of the dying soldier, Justin Braun gave a touching performance as he reacted with surprise and regret to the people and memories of times past.

Under the direction of Wesley Stoner, the chorus was snappy as the math numbers, sonorous as the shepherds and wonderfully balanced and moving in the final hymn of forgiveness. Reducing Ravel’s orchestral score to five players may seem impossible but it worked beautifully in the Clarke’s small space. Alan Johnson led a sensitive, musically scrupulous reading that brought out Ravel’s conflation of joy and sorrow. Anna Gryshyna and Qiying Wang (playing four-hand piano), flutist Emily Dierickx and cellist Aaron Merritt superbly delineated Ravel’s childhood sound world.

There is one remaining performance of this bold production of one of the twentieth century’s most singular operatic works. The performance is free but space is limited so audience members should arrive early to experience this treat for the young at heart.

The Frost Opera Theater repeats L’Enfant et les Sortilèleges 7:30 p.m. Thursday at UM Clarke Recital Hall in Coral Gables. Frostmusiclive.com

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