Throughout a year of lockdown, the dynamo that is opera mogul Wasfi Kani has been making work for idle hands. Five months on from Owen Wingrave her Grange Park Opera movie unit has reconvened under director Stephen Medcalf for another new production, this time of Ravel’s 45-minute comedy L’Heure espagnole, and like its predecessor it was shot entirely on location with the singers miming to their pre-recorded voices. As before, financial constraints mean there is no orchestra on the soundtrack, only the artful piano of Chris Hopkins, but the loss this time round is more troubling than in the Britten as Ravel’s sparkling instrumental colours are fundamental to the work’s charm. L’Heure can seem trite without them.

Elgan Llŷr Thomas (Gonzalve), Catherine Backhouse (Concepción) and Ross Ramgobin (Ramiro)
© Grange Park Opera

The four-star rating is thoroughly earned, however, not only by the five soloists who excel in vocal and comic presence but also by the resourcefulness with which Medcalf and cinematographer Daniel Zafer bring the tale to filmic life. Shooting over five days last month in the cramped confines of a real-life shop, Howard Walwyn Fine Antique Clocks of Kensington Church Street, they achieve near-miracles of invention while editor Ben Willis almost convinced me that two grown men could fit inside grandfather clocks.

The plot is tosh, of course – a cuckolded Spanish clockmaker whose blindness to the frolics of his frisky nymphomaniac wife has what used to be called ‘hilarious consequences’ – but its dreamlike edge propels it along, and this film captures the opera’s mood admirably despite the West London location. Early on the eye says ‘I guess we’re not in Toledo anymore’ and accepts the surreal deal. More disconcerting is how the artisanal Torquemada (tenor Jeffrey Lloyd Roberts in lip-smacking form) can afford to buy his morning coffee and cake at Sally Clarke’s Bakery... but then what do I know of Kensington life?

Jeffrey Lloyd-Roberts (Torquemada)
© Grange Park Opera

Catherine Backhouse is a musically polished riot as his missus, amusingly but one hopes not aptly named Concepción given the number of gentleman callers she lures downstairs to her upstairs bedroom (that’s not a Lewis Carroll paradox, just a structural imperative within the good Mr Walwyn’s emporium). I’m less sure about her asides to camera – you need the spontaneous wit of a Miranda to carry those off – but they’re in the score, so needs must, I suppose.

Ashley Riches (Don Iñigo Gomez), Ross Rambogin, Catherine Backhouse and Elgan Llŷr Thomas
© Grange Park Opera

Three estimable singers play the Concepción chasers. All are established leading men, familiar figures rarely out of work in normal times. Tenor Elgan Llŷr Thomas and bass-baritone Ashley Riches as Gonzalve and Don Iñigo Gomez chew the scenery as well as the innards of two grandfather clocks with requisite gusto, while burly baritone Ross Ramgobin, in a role far removed from last year’s Owen Wingrave, does the heavy lifting as Ramiro, his clock-toting character repurposed for the Kensingtonian landscape as a UPS delivery man. Eventually the twinkle in Ramgobin’s eye has Backhouse’s heroine all of a swoon and back downstairs they go – “sans horloge”. Tick tock!


This performance was reviewed from Grange Park Opera's video stream

Watch the video here
Elgan Llŷr Thomas (Gonzalve), Catherine Backhouse (Concepción) and Ross Ramgobin (Ramiro)
© Grange Park Opera
Ashley Riches (Don Iñigo Gomez), Ross Rambogin, Catherine Backhouse and Elgan Llŷr Thomas
© Grange Park Opera
Jeffrey Lloyd-Roberts (Torquemada)
© Grange Park Opera