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VOPERA, The Virtual Opera Project, has created an extraordinary inaugural production, a tour-de-force of technical wizardry and artistic excellence.


BWW Review: L'ENFANT ET LES SORTILÈGES, VOPERA If you've ever dealt with kids, you've seen it - especially if you've been homeschooling these last few months. The child, frustrated and angry; the parent distracted and stressed - cue the tantrum. Whatever comes to hand hits the floor, things get screamed that shouldn't even be said and you both know you'll regret it (even as it's happening). But what can you do? Life sometimes boils over.

This child gets her comeuppance. Sucked into a digital world, the objects she smashed, the animals she tormented, the teachers she ignored, gang up and invade her consciousness, demanding their say, their retribution, their turn. Like an unruly horse, she is eventually broken and, squabbling among themselves, her would-be avengers can't quite exact their pound of flesh before they're moved take pity on a frightened child who is crying for her Mum.

That's Colette's libretto, but this version is very much 2020s not 1920s, director, Rachael Hewer (with the assistance of Victor Fong for the Mandarin scene) taking us right into the heart of the pandemic. Maurice Ravel's score (orchestrated for 27 musicians by Lee Reynolds) jars and jazzes as the jeopardy gives way to joy - it sounds ridiculously fresh. You hear Gershwin's influence coming through amongst more classical motifs, but there's room too for parody and pastiche too in an intense 50 minutes or so.

Emily Edmonds' mezzo-soprano is perfect for L'Enfant's journey from petulance to enlightenment and, as is the case for all the singers, she somehow creates a wonderfully authentic operatic sound from whatever she had to hand at home (at no point did any singer meet another other than online). I enjoyed Claire Lees as La Princesse, now a nurse PPEing up on a packed and sombre Covid ward. Quite how the chorus produced a glorious sound must constitute some kind of alchemy, but they did, tremendous in a scene with Paul Hopwood as Le Petit Vieillard, in this version, the teacher from hell barking out numbers who gained a life of their own.

If that wasn't enough - and had we been in a house, it certainly would have been - designer, Leanne Vandenbussche, and cinematographer and VFX editor, James Hall, have drawn inspiration from Studio Ghibli, Sir John Tenniel, Quentin Blake and even to create a world at once familiar but also totally phantasmagorical - a Covidy fever dream piling one 2020 anxiety on top of another. We get to see the singers sing - which I can only hope does them as much good as it does us - and 135 people get paid to do the work they love. How bloody good is it to write that!

And the finale? Premiered on the day another vaccine offers real hope of the nightmare ending, it is perfectly judged, its impact akin to Andrei Tarkovsky's celebrated closing sequence in Andrei Rublev - and praise doesn't come any higher than that.

L'Enfant et les Sortilèges is available for 30 days on Youtube via the VOPERA website and Marquee TV.

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From This Author Gary Naylor