L'Enfant et les sortilèges

Fantaisie lyrique en deux parties
1e Partie
L'Enfant (mezzo-soprano). Introduction (and throughout). Afternoon, in an old-fashioned house in Normandy.
"J'ai pas envie de faire ma page"
Maman (mezzo-soprano). Mother is represented by a huge skirt, or "jupe". She reprimands the Child for his laziness and rudeness
"Songez, songez surtout au chagrin de Maman"
Le Fauteuil (bass). La Bergère (mezzo-soprano). The two chairs move away to keep the Child from sitting in them, and they begin "une danse compassée et grotesque".
"Plus de coussins pour son sommeil, plus de sièges pour sa rêverie."
L'Horloge Comptoise (baritone). Whose pendulum has been broken off.
"Peut-être, s'il ne m'eût mutilée, rien n'aurait jamais changé dans cette demeure"
Le Théière (tenor). La Tasse (mezzo-soprano). A black Wedgwood teapot and a china cup, in pieces on the ground, exchange snatches of Anglo-Sino-French, to a kind of foxtrot.
"Ah! Kek-ta fouhtuh d'mon Kaoua"
Le Feu (coloratura soprano). Fire leaps from the chimney (to the sound of a wind machine).
"Je réchauffe les bons, mais je brûle les méchants"
Le Pâtre (mezzo-soprano). La Pastourelle (soprano). Pâtres and Pastoures (chorus). The torn figures from the wallpaper's rural scenes begin a sad dance, to the sound of pipe and drum.
"Nous n'irons plus sur l'herbe mauve, paître nos verts moutons"
La Princesse (soprano). From the scattered leaves of the story-book, the beautiful Princess arises, her story never to be completed.
"Mais tu as déchiré le livre, que va-t-il arriver de moi?"
Le Petit Vieillard (tenor). From another book, a mis-shapen little man emerges to torment the Child with problems, the personification of Arithmetic, surrounded by his Chorus of numbers.
"Quatre et quat' dix-huit. Onze et six vingt-cinq"
Le Chat (baritone). La Chatte (mezzo-soprano). The black tomcat and the white female shun the Child, and conduct a wordless "duo miaulé".
2e Partie
La Chouette (soprano). As the cats lead the Child into the garden, the magical sounds of the night well up: insects, frogs and toads, the breeze, nightingales, and, barely audible among them, a screech owl.
L'Arbre (bass). Les Arbres (chorus). The trees whose bark has been wounded by the Child's knife groan.
"Ma blessure... ma blessure..."
La Libellule (mezzo-soprano). Le Rossignol (soprano). The dragonfly searches for her captured mate, to the melody of a sad waltz, which is then joined by a coloratura nightingale.
"Où es tu? Je te cherche..."
La Chauve-souris (soprano). The widowered bat has to feed his nest of babies.
"Rends-la moi... tsk,tsk..."
L'Écureil (mezzo-soprano). La Rainette (tenor). The embittered squirrel warns the frog about the cage in which the Child imprisoned him.
"Oui, c'était pour mes beaux yeux"
Les Bêtes. Les Arbres (chorus). All the animals and trees turn against the Child, but when in the struggle he helps an injured squirrel they stop, and guide him back to the house and his mother in a chorale of reconcilation.
"Il est bon, l'Enfant, il est sage, bien sage"

Ravel's second opera (after L'Heure espagnole which was written in 1907-09) originated when Jacques Rouché, director of the Opéra de Paris, during the First World War invited Colette to provide the scenario for a "féerie-ballet". Colette wrote it in eight days, calling it "Divertissements pour ma fille". When various composers were suggested to her for the score, she only became enthusiastic when Ravel's name was mentioned; a copy of the scenario was sent to him in 1916 while he was on war service, but it got lost. He finally saw the text in 1917 and agreed to write the music. It took shape slowly however, and it was only in 1924 that contractual agreements impelled him to work intensively on it and bring it to completion. The first performance of the re-titled "L'Enfant et les sortilèges" was given on 21 March 1925 in Monte Carlo; it was conducted by Vittorio de Sabata, and the ballet sequences were created by the young George Balanchine.

The reception of the opera was mixed: enthusiastic at its Monte Carlo première, much cooler in Paris a year later. André Messager, in Le Figaro (fév. 1926) criticised Ravel for producing imitative music. An embroidered cushion from Ravel's home  at Le Belvédère But Poulenc and other members of the Groupe des Six were impressed. Arthur Honegger, in Musique et Théâtre (15 avril 1925) defended the work, singling out the "duo des chats", which elsewhere caused much consternation and outrage, perhaps through suspicion that it was a parody of a Wagnerian love duet. (Ravel kept Siamese cats at his home at Le Belvédère.)

Colette, after sometimes doubting whether she would ever see the work finished, was delighted: "Je n'avais pas prévu qu'une vague orchestrale, constellée de rossignols et de lucides, soulèverait si haut mon œuvre modeste" (Colette, Journal à rebours, [1941])

Ravel described his musical style as being in the manner of an American musical comedy: "Le souci mélodique qui y domine s'y trouve servi par un sujet que je me suis plu à traiter dans l'esprit de l'opérette américaine. ...C'est le chant qui domine ici. L'orchestre, sans faire fi de la virtuosité instrumentale, reste néanmoins au second plan." (Ravel, [1938]).

The work is subtitled "Fantaisie lyrique en deux parties": the first part takes place in the Child's room, where injured objects and furnishings voice their complaints; the second part is in the garden among the trees, animals and insects which have also suffered at the Child's hands. The running time is approximately 45 minutes, and there are 21 singing parts.

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