The Child and the Spells

Sat 8th November 2014

reviews

Jen Bell

at 09:58 on 9th Nov 2014

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Weird and wonderful was the theme of the night at the Bristol University Operatic Society’s (BOps) production of Maurice Ravel’s The Child and The Spells. Creativity and flair flowed throughout the performance to transport the audience to a dream-scape of childhood imagination.

Tom (Musical Director) and Bea (Director) had a difficult task on their hands in bringing to life Ravel’s bizarre tale of a child reprimanded by his surroundings for abusing them. However, with a vibrant cast of brilliant singers and some simplistic but effective staging, the team successfully presented the child’s journey from anger to understanding.

Tessa Deterding and Lisa Williams gave a heartfelt performance of an angry child and a despairing mother, with their voices working beautifully both together and individually, whilst the surrounding objects were characterised to perfection. Particular credit should be given to Sam Peterson for a brilliantly comic performance of a grandfather clock and a maths teacher. Hannah Boxall and Madeline Shields portrayed almost regal shepherdesses, skilfully moving the audience from the humour of the previous interactions to a darker side of consequences. Harim Oh’s excellent performance as a beautifully sad princess encapsulated the book characters' fear for their homes, whilst echoing the mother’s despair for the child; a seemingly constant presence in the opera. With such a variety of individual objects to be performed, Ravel’s opera gave the society the perfect opportunity to showcase its astounding talent.

Whilst individual performance undoubtedly shone in this short production, the most enchanting moments had to be the ensemble pieces, for as talented as the performers were separately they were even better united. The chorus of numbers was another highlight of Act 1, and made for a fantastically chilling scene that encapsulated the opera’s ability to be amusing yet always bordering on sinister. The ensemble work increased in Act 2 as the lights went up on the dark and almost claustrophobic scene. Ivy vines, green lights and the constant presence of some expertly performed trees, made for a more threatening feel to this second half.

Lydia Ward (pianist) and Catherine Okey (flautist), provided an exquisite rendition of Ravel’s music throughout the performance. The effect was certainly different from the orchestral accompaniments that BOps productions often involve, but the simplicity worked as the perfect complement to the vast number of characters.

Cardboard costumes, animal noises, copious furry ears and frequent dance routines should have made the show reminiscent of a school play, however, these details only added to the charm of the production. With a mixture of Fantasia, Beauty in the Beast, Where the Wild Things Are and Alice in Wonderland, the BOps production captured the most powerful aspects of works involving children: the balance of the light humour with dark surrealism.

The highlight of the show would have to be the finale. With music reminiscent of 1950s Disney, the ensemble carried the audience to the brink of despair before providing a soft return to reality as the child is returned to his mother to provide the powerful final line ‘mama’. The audience’s silence for the moment after the lights went out for the final time, should serve as a testament to the cast’s ability to transfix their audience with a performance that can only be described as hauntingly beautiful.

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