Described in some sources as a ‘ballet-opera’ Ravel’s L’enfant et les Sortilèges is a fantastical story where a naughty child (L’Enfant) is punished for his bad behavior when the items in his room come to life to take their revenge. The armchairs (La Bergère and Le Fauteuil) dance together to escape the child, and the take the bench (Le Banc), couch (Le Canapé), stool (Le Pouf), and the wicker chair (La Chaise de Paille) with them. The Grandfather Clock (L’Horologe Comtoise) starts toppling around the room after the child, upset at being made to strike out of time, and the Wedgwood Teapot (La Théière) boxes and dances with the Chinese teacup (La Tasse Chinoise). The fire (Le Feu) jumps out of the grate, the torn shepherds from the wallpaper (Les Pastoures and Les Pâtres) rise from the floor and dance a ballet, and the Princess (La Princesse) from the book the child destroyed appears then leaves him, forever. Even his math book becomes a little old man (Le Petit Vieillard) and the numbers (Les Chiffres) jump about the room, all in the wrong order.
Following the cats outside, the child seeks refuge in the garden, but here the trees (Les Arbres) have come alive, and he is plagued by all the animals he has hurt or captured, and the partners of the animals he has killed. The squirrel (L’Ecureuil) he has kept in a cage warns the tree frog (La Rainette) to stay away in case he might be captured, and asks the child to set him free. The animals and trees finally gang together and attack the child, but when the squirrel is hurt and screams out everything stops. The child bandages the squirrel’s paw and the animals are shocked at his kindness. The child cries out one word ‘Maman’ and the animals echo it until Maman appears at the door, and the child goes back into the house. With such fun characters to play, the fantasy world of L’enfant et les Sortilèges is not unlike something from Alice in Wonderland or Beauty and the Beast and provides an interesting musical challenge for any singer, and a great experience for the audience.
L'Enfant et les sortilèges guide sections