Editor's note: Opera to Go and the Juneau Symphony present a program of French music, including "L'enfant et les Sortileges" at 8 p.m. Saturday, April 3, and 3 p.m. Sunday, April 4, at the Juneau-Douglas High School auditorium. Tickets are available at Hearthside Books, the door and www.juneau.com/symphony. "L'enfant" will then tour, leaving Juneau on Friday, April 16, and playing at 8 p.m. Saturday, April 17, at The Chilkat Center For The Arts in Haines and 6 p.m. Sunday, April 18, at the St. Elias Convention Centre in Haines Junction.
Who among us has not spoken to the animals and inanimate objects in our homes? And who among us would not be terrifed if these same objects broke into song one day and took us to task for our frailties and weaknesses - the things that make us human and inhumane?
That's the literal idea behind "L'Enfant et les Sortileges," originally a 1917 libretto by the eccentric French female novelist Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette. It became a full-fledged opera seven years later when Maurice Ravel added his syncopated score.
In the story, the bored, spoiled "L'enfant" (an 8-year-old boy) rips, kicks and smashes until he's confronted by "les sortileges" (the objects in his room, affected by magic). Once faced with the pages of the mathbook he's torn, the mate of the dragonfly he's pinned against a wall and all the characters's he's abused or taken for granted, he learns his place in the world and the meaning of compassion.
Colette and Ravel wrote their halves separately, without direct collaboration. But combined, the story and the symphony's mood reflect a need for re-examination, minuteness and escapism amid the devastation, depression and hopeful reconstruction of pre-World War I, avant-garde France. Colette did not fight. Ravel was an ambulance driver.
"In that way, it has some relevance to the times we're in," Opera To Go director Joyce Parry Moore said. "We have this sense of might makes right, of freedom at any cost. We talk about that term, freedom. But what does freedom really mean? What does it really mean to be human and compassionate. There isn't much talk about compassion that I have heard nowadays. To me, this opera speaks about learning to be strong through compassion. And it's a differnet kind of strength. It certainly is a commentary on war, and I think that came out of Ravel and Colette."
This is the first collaboration between Opera to Go and the Juneau Symphony. The cast has been rehearsing six days a week for more than a month.
"It's not like listening to Puccini, that's so lyrical," said Cathy Pashigian, who researched broad-chested darters online for her role as the Dragonfly. "This pulls you in. There are so many different musical idioms, sort of a cabaret kind of sound, some jazz and vaudeville."
"When you're working with the Symphony you have this other layer," she said. "It was important to have done your homework, practiced it visually, learned the integrals, the timing and how your part fits in with the whole."
Both Parry Moore and symphony conductor Kyle Wiley Pickett have worked with versions of "L'enfant" before. Parry starred as the princess while in graduate school in Boston. She reprises her role here.
"The great thing about Ravel is that ability to turn on a dime between some things that are very poignant and deeply meaningful and some things that are hilariously funny and ridiculous," she said. "And that juxtaposition is a very French construct. It's a really deep learning tool. You juxtapose the ridiculous and the sublime and then you learn something new. His ability to be flexible teaches us a lot in a short amount of time."
Colette also stretches the story beyond the limits of children's theater. Her tale reminds us, as adults, that our environment can speak. As Parry Moore said, "we have to embrace what's animal about us to find what's human about us."
"The story is important because it shows how people can change," said Katie Pollard, 11, a home-schooled student who plays a chair, a number and a frog. "We're all mad at him, and we're trying to teach him a lesson. But we're pretty afraid of him, too."
L'Enfant et les Sortileges Production Team
Stage Director - Joyce Parry Moore; Production Manager - Roald Simonson; Stage Manager - Clara Weishahn; Choreography - Janice Hurley; Set Design - Corlé LaForce; Lighting Design - Calvin Anderson; Costume Design - Dawn Pisel-Davis; Mask Design - Roblin Gray Davis; Wigs and Make-up - Heather Sinsic; Props - Alexis Rippe; Chorus Master - William Todd Hunt; Rehearsal Pianist - Sue Kazama; JDHS Auditorium Manager - Lucas Hoiland.
Mama (Mother)/Dragonfly - Cathy Pashigian; L'Enfant (The Child) - Giselle Stone; Bergre Chair/White Cat - Therese Thibodeau; Armchair/Black Cat - Philippe Damerval; Teapot/Mathematics Teacher - Jason Alexander; Teacup/Caged Squirrel - Lorraine Marshall; Clock/Frog - Brett Crawford; Wounded Tree - Phil Schempf; Bat - Patricia Hull; Fire/Nightingale - Rebekka Smith; Princess - Joyce Parry Moore.
Shepherdess/Frog - Terry Brown; Shepherd/Squirrel - Jill Geering Matheson; Shepherdess/Moth - Masha Herbst; Shepherdess/Bat - Terry Laskey; Cinder/Bat - Jon Pollard; Shepherd/Squirrel - Colleen Porter; Shepherd/Frog - Jay Query; Shepherdess/Owl - Janet Sanbei; Shepherdess - Clara Weishahn; Shepherdess/Frog - Ardyne Womack.
Fireplace/Number/Bat - Aldyn Brudie; Desk/Number/Frog - Andria Budbill; Cat/Number/Bat/Squirrel Solo - Connor Chaney; Number/Bat/Frog - Callie Conerton; Fireplace/Number/Frog - Glenn Hoskinson; Pouf/Number/Wounded Squirrel - Marie Petersen; Chair/Number/Frog - Katie Pollard.