“The phantasmagoria is constant,” Ravel said – needlessly – of his magic-filled opera L’enfant et les sortilèges (The Child and the Spells). This short lyric fantasy, about a rude infant and the lessons of loneliness, has countless roles and many dramaturgical challenges: a duet for teapot and china cup; a mother represented by a giant skirt; a coloratura princess torn from a fairytale book. Seeing its potential as an animation, the London Philharmonic Orchestra has collaborated with Vopera, the virtual opera project, to produce an enchanting digital version, providing paid work for 135 musicians, visual artists, technicians and others.
The result, conducted and arranged by Lee Reynolds and directed by Rachael Hewer, is both visually playful and aurally assured. Colette’s libretto has been tactfully updated, and Reynolds’s deft reduction of the score retains Ravel’s sensuous textures, delicately brought to life by 27 members of the LPO. Using green-screen technology, singers’ faces are overlaid with rich, hand-drawn imagery, from 18th-century drawing room to wheelie-bin cityscape. We’ll set aside, but not without admiration, the complexities of auditioning, rehearsing and recording during lockdown.
The Australian mezzo-soprano Emily Edmonds sings the child (bewitchingly played on screen by butter-wouldn’t-melt Amelie Turnage, aged nine), with Karen Cargill as Maman heading an 80-strong cast bursting with familiar names. A final collage, of empty opera houses slowly filling with smiling faces, made a poignant end.
In Love, Lies and Justice, part of their Re:connect online concert series, the Academy of St Martin in the Fields built an evening of words and music around the bestselling factual thriller The Ratline, by Philippe Sands. The barrister-writer himself read extracts from his absorbing tale of a Nazi fugitive, and the ASMF played Bruckner, Mahler, Korngold and Schulhoff, with baritone Simon Wallfisch an eloquent soloist. Persuading the home concert viewer not to walk away to fill kettle or dog isn’t easy. There was no contest here.
Star ratings (out of five)
L’enfant et les sortilèges ★★★★★
Love, Lies and Justice ★★★★