L'heure Espagnole

Maurice Ravel
Grange Park Opera
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Gonzalve (Elgan Llyr Thomas), Ashley Riches (Don Iñigo, in clock), Concepción (Catherine Backhouse) and Ramiro (Ross Ramgobin) Credit: Grange Park Opera
Ashley Riches (Don Iñigo) and Concepción (Catherine Backhouse) Credit: Grange Park Opera
And where would you like this one, missus? Rodrigo and Concepción Credit: Grange Park Opera

COVID restrictions mean that many enterprising opera companies, especially in Italy, have bravely carried on, broadcasting distanced or concert performances, sometimes with reduced orchestra.

The results, although admirable, have rarely been as rewarding as full-blown productions. A positive exception, however, is Grange Park’s whimsical L’heure Espagnole, brilliantly filmed by director Stephen Medcalf inside a Kensington clock shop.

The accompaniment is largely just piano, played swooningly, with sufficient Spanish dash by Chris Hopkins that it sounds as if this chamber work, just 50 minutes long, might have been written for that instrument alone.

And Medcalf’s close-up camera work captures every little witticism of the players’ gestures and the mobile features of Catherine Backhouse as Concepción, clockmaker Torquemada’s sexually generous wife, in a way that live performance cannot match.

The singing is excellent too, the performers responding well to the broken dance rhythms. Hugh Grant-like tenor Elgan Llyr Thomas has a light dreamy tone as the poet Gonzalve, more in love with the working of clocks than of women, Ashley Riches doesn’t overplay the buffoonery as the older lover, and in the role of Ramiro, here a delivery strongman, I loved Ross Ramgobin’s rippling baritone as much as Concepción admired his rippling muscles.

Backhouse naturally runs rings around all of them, and one suspects that when Jeffrey Lloyd Roberts’s Torquemada pockets the sale of his clocks to her lovers, he knows the time of day perfectly well.

Reviewer: Colin Davison