The Royal Academy Opera put on a sumptuous double bill of one-act operas: Tchaikovsky’s Iolanta and Ravel’s L’enfant et les sortilèges. The operas are both quite fairytale like but they couldn’t be more different, both as productions and operas.

First up was Iolanta, performed in the original Russian with quite a simple but exceptionally effective staging: a bare stage with black backing and a small moveable greenhouse filled with trees, flowers and plants.

The opera is about the blind daughter of King René who doesn’t know that she is blind, having been made to believe that everyone is like her, hidden away from the world in a beautiful paradise. That is until some knights come by, one of them Vaudémont falling in love with Iolanta and telling her the truth about her sight. Her father has a doctor to try and fix her sight, but she only can if she wants sight, which she’s only just found out about, but due to her new love with Vaudémont, she does.

The standout performance in Iolanta for me was Ossian Huskinson as King René, a bass who has a fantastic voice but also great stage presence, even when not the focus of the scene, he really does act and embody this character perfectly, I’m very excited to see how his career develops. Clare Tunney as Iolanta has a wonderful voice, slightly strained at the higher register but she holds the opera together exceedingly well, her acting as the blind Iolanta is spot-on, she really embodies the role, she is Iolanta. Robert Forest as Vaudémont, Connor Baiano as Bertrand and Stephanie Wake-Edwards as Marta were all very impressive and all brought a lot of heart and talent in to their respective roles.

The one thing that for me, put a dampner on this was at the very end, when Iolanta was with everybody, celebrating her new-found sight and love, she starts to look around fearful and runs around and then falls to the floor breathing hard and crying and it is at this point that it ends, bringing what should have been (and is in the majority of productions of this) a happy ending, more of a sad and dark ending, which I believe was a mistake and stops the audience really getting to enjoy that full spectrum of emotions, a bit disappointing.

The second opera of the night was L’enfant et les sortilèges for which the stage becomes positively cluttered with objects and props.  It’s a stunning set and production and a wonderful contrast to the almost bare stage in Iolanta.

The story is about a child who is naughty and is to told to stay in their room with just some dry bed as punishment. Once they destroy their bedroom in anger everything in the room comes to life to tell him off and even more do once he goes in to the garden before he changes and helps someone in need and begins to become a better person, growing up.

Clare Tunney as Iolanta and Robert Forrest as Vaudémont

The production on this is spectacular, from great twists such as the arm chair has a real person inside it, so they can stand out and talk as the chair to some stunning puppetry work from frogs to dragonflies and bats, it’s fairytale all the way and all the better for it.  Olivia Warburton as the child does a wonderful job holding the piece together and being the heart of it, and Lina Dambrauskaitė as the fire and the bat gives a lovely performance, especially as the fire.

This double bill showed so much talent, both on and off stage, the orchestra, conducted by Gareth Hancock were brilliant, a little slow at the start but within minutes were really going for it. Apart from the slight problem that I had with the ending of Iolanta I couldn’t fault the productions, especially L’enfant et les sortilèges which was just an absolute delight, so full of fairytale wonder and escapism, I loved it, and Iolanta was the perfect balance to it, full of drama and sadness, a brilliant double bill.

Words by Stuart Martin.
For more information, visit Royal Academy Opera.

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