Ravel’s L’enfant et les sortilèges will be at the Dairy Center Dec. 17–19
By Peter Alexander Dec. 14 at 10:15 p.m.
You cannot accuse the Boulder Opera Company of a lack of ambition.
The small company under the direction of Dianela Acosta has presented such staples of the repertoire as Mozart’s Così fan tutte, Mascagni‘s Cavalleria rusticana and Puccini’s La Bohème, as well as operatic rarities by César Cui and Xavier Montsalvatge. That’s in addition to free opera in the park at Boulder‘s Bandshell, concert performances of arias, and outreach to local schools.
All on a small budget, which means the numbers of singers and other musicians, and the extent of the scenery must all be limited. Boulder Opera’s sets and costumes are generally bare bones, and the accompaniment may be only a piano, or piano with a handful of instruments.
Acosta doesn’t let those limitations stop her. “If I had any hesitation, I wouldn’t have done anything,” she says. She and the crew always find a way to convey the story, and the singers she hires are young professionals whose skill and dedication overcome the musical obstacles. For 10 years Boulder Opera has been reaching a growing audience.
Their next production aimed at families is only about 50 minutes in length, but it is one of the most challenging works yet: Ravel’s L’enfant et les sortilèges (The child and the spells), about a child who misbehaves badly but provides a lesson about kindness and forgiveness. Performances will be Dec. 17 and 19 in the Grace Gamm Theater at the Dairy Arts Center (details below).
The libretto by renowned French writer Colette tells the story of a child who throws a temper tantrum, tearing pages from his schoolbooks and wallpaper from the walls, breaking china and kicking the furniture. The scene suddenly transforms to the garden outside, where animals and objects gang up for revenge, until the child performs a simple act of kindness and is forgiven.
“Finding a subject that was kid-friendly was one of our goals,” Acosta says. “There is this message of kindness at the end. It’s the idea of unconditional love. He is a child and you have to forgive him once he comes out of his tantrum.”
The score lists more than 20 different singing characters plus a chorus, and it calls for plenty of stage magic—a fire that comes to life, singing furniture, dishes, cats, squirrels, frogs, a dragonfly and a tree, characters from the torn wallpaper and the ripped book, and the transformation of the child’s room into a garden. Here, this must all be done by a cast of 10 and without extensive stage machinery. Costumes are expressive but not elaborate, to keep the changes fast and simple.
“L’Enfant et les sortilèges is not done often because of the large cast and the scenery changes,” Acosta says. “As a small company it was a daunting project, but not only have we double cast”—that is, most singers perform more than one role—”most of the characters are also singing in the ensemble. We have a great creative team. Everyone has been very organized and they put their heads together to accomplish it.”
Acosta has been working mostly behind the scenes, so a lot of the challenges fell on the shoulders of stage director Dana Kinney. “You would think with a short production it wouldn’t be so complicated,” she says. “But there are so many characters, all the props, all the costume changes—a lot definitely goes into this production.”
While the stage at the Dairy has limited technical resources, Kinney found a silver lining to that, too. “Much as I would love to have a fly-in set of the room into this magical garden, there’s so much happening on stage, (this production) actually gives the audience a chance to focus on the action.”
She said the greatest challenge was a scene where a math teacher and numbers rise out of a book the child has ripped apart. “The music is so active that the action onstage (is) very active as well. That is probably a three-minute scene that took three hours to stage! It’s like the chaos of the child’s head while doing math homework is played out in real life.”
Her favorite scene may be one between two cats, who sing meeows but no real words. “A scene like that is the easiest, because you don’t have to think about the text,” she says. “You can create your own story, and that’s a fun thing to work on. (The singers) are doing all the cat mannerisms, on the floor, and they’re taking complete ownership. It has a lot of playfulness.”
For all of the challenges created by Ravel’s opera, Kinney has enjoyed working with the cast. “I’ve been fortunate to work with this group,” she says. “Everything I threw their way, they committed to 100 percent. They have tried everything while also incorporating their own vision of the characters.
“This is going to be a really, really fun production!”
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Maurice Ravel: L’enfant et les sortilèges (The child and the spells)
Boulder Opera Company
Steven Aguiló-Arbues, conductor; Dana Kinney, stage director
Maggie Hinchcliffe, piano
Performed in French with English titles
7 p.m. Friday, Dec. 17, and Saturday, Dec. 18
1 and 4 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 19
Grace Gamm Theater, Dairy Arts Center
NOTE: The Diary Arts Center requires masks in public indoor spaces, regardless of vaccination status.