Prodigal Son and a Brat, a Whimsical Pairing
By BERNARD HOLLAND
The Juilliard Opera Center’s double bill on Wednesday made more nonmusical than musical sense. “L’Enfant Prodigue” by Debussy and “L’Enfant et les Sortilèges” by Ravel fit nicely into an evening. Both are French. Both are about children and parents. Otherwise, they have little to do with each other.
The better-known piece – and with good reason – is the Ravel. It pushes both the positive and the derogatory definitions of the word precious to their limits. This anthropomorphic fantasy of abused objects taking revenge on their young abuser indulges the composer’s fascination for instrumental colors, vivid dramatic coups and near-the-edge sentimentality. The last is egged on by Colette’s libretto.
French music dreams in a certain way, and when children are involved, whimsy lurks. Your tolerance for whimsy determines your reaction to “L’Enfant et les Sortilèges.” Whether it charms or cloys, this little opera is an impressive artifact, the kind for which the French term tour de force was invented.
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