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Second Sight - Music with Wilfrid Mellers

15. Magic and Innocence
A double bill at Opera North

'This production, given its musical values, must on no account be missed.'


Ravel and his friend Debussy were among the most audacious dreamers in French cultural history; and no people achieved a more sensitive equilibrium between reality and dream than the French. Debussy was possibly the more crucial figure since, during the years in which the humanity of the Western World was disintegrating under the weight of its petty mechanizations, he boldly ventured into the subconscious, there to discover in dreams a reality that seemed both deeper and higher than 'consciousness'. Ravel was, if less ambitious, more specific, for he concentrated on the basic myth of Eden and our Fall from it. In the plenitude of his powers he created his biggest and probably best work, the Diaghilev ballet, Daphnis et Chloé (1912), which explored the ever-self-renewing mysteries of adolescence; after which, winnowing down his resources, he further 'regressed' to the fairy tales of childhood (as in the exquisite 'easy' piano duets he called La Mère d'Oye, wherein are defined the pure modal contours of his idiosyncratic tunes); and to a further clarification of his sometimes ironically ambiguous classical harmonies (as in the Valses nobles et sentimentales in which title both adjectives are precise).

A scene from the Opera North 2002 production of Ravel's 'L'Enfant et les Sortileges'. Photo: Bill Cooper

This process continued until Ravel's final substantial work, which is explicitly 'about' our Fall from childhood's Eden. Colette's sweetly subtle libretto for the one-act opera, L'Enfant et les Sortilèges (1925) tells the tale of a peevish child who, momently fallen from grace, assaults his toys and picture-books as illusions that pre-vent his growing up, only to discover that his 'crime', in ultimately generating pity, enables him to discover his humanity and, indeed, his individual identity.

Claire Wild as The Child (right) in the Opera North 2002 production of Ravel's 'L'Enfant et les Sortileges'. Photo: Bill Cooper


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Copyright © 9 June 2002 Wilfrid Mellers, York, UK



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