L'Heure espagnole is a one-act operatic farce written by Ravel and first premiered in 1911. The title's literal translation is "The Spanish Hour", but here the word "heure" refers more generally to "time", reminiscent of the cliché, "How They Keep Time in Spain". The work's Latin atmosphere is reinforced through Ravel's incorporation of dance music like the malagueña, the jota, and the habañera.
Ravel wrote his first opera, L’Heure espagnole, as a tribute to his father, an ardent supporter of his musical career. His compositions had already met with considerable success, but his father’s favorite type of music had always been opera. Sadly, L’Heure espagnole was not well received by the public and the critics, who found it to be vulgar. Hoping to preempt negative reactions, Ravel published an open letter in Le Figaro: "I seek to give new life to the Italian opera buffa, but only in its principal. Like its ancestor, its only ancestor, The Marriage by Moussorgski, L'Heure espagnole is a musical comedy." Despite Ravel's efforts, three years passed before the opera was produced again, and although the new production would prove very successful, Ravel’s father was sadly already deceased by that time.
Concepción is a lusty Spanish woman who juggles lovers while her husband Torquemada, a clock maker, is preoccupied with his work. One day, a muleteer Ramiro comes to the clock shop to have his watch fixed. Soon Concepción enters the shop to remind her husband to go look after to the city's clocks, meanwhile complaining that he has yet to put one of the two grandfather clocks in her room as she had requested. It's too heavy to move, he responds, and then leaves to fulfill his municipal duties, asking Ramiro to wait until he gets back. The muscular muleteer and the clock maker's wife are left alone. Concepción hints at how the grandfather clock still needs to be carried up to her room. Ramiro agrees to help and takes it upstairs. As he leaves the room, Concepción’s first lover, Gonzalve comes to the shop. She hides him from Ramiro in the second clock. Then her second lover, the banker Don Íñigo, turns up at the shop and hides inside the first clock to surprise Concepción… how will this comedy of errors end?
Photo: © Simon Annand
Chamber Orchestra of Europe, Gulbenkian Choir
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