Like Ravel’s music, the texts by the writer Collette also display an unusual synthesis of cosmopolitanism and innocence. The collaboration of the two artists resulted in the one-act opera L’Enfant et les sortilèges (The Child and the Spells), which depicts the imaginative power of a child from an adult’s perspective, without trivialization, as otherwise perhaps only Schumann’s Kinderszenen (Scenes from Childhood) and Debussy’s Children’s Corner do. Although Colette completed the libretto unusually quickly, Ravel did not finish setting it until after years of painstaking work. The result moved the author of the text to tears at the premiere in 1925 and enchants audiences to this day – despite or precisely because of Ravel’s eclecticism. His adaptation of various musical styles reflects the enthusiasm of a child who uninhibitedly collects the objects that appeal to it.
Sir Simon Rattle already programmed Ravel’s children’s opera, which is not widely known in Germany, during his first season as chief conductor of the Berliner Philharmoniker; a project of the orchestra’s Education Programme was also devoted to the work. For the revival in September 2008 an ensemble of virtuosic singers and actors was again enlisted, headed by mezzo-soprano Magdalena Kožená in the role of the naughty child. The first part of the concert featured Ravel’s orchestral suite Ma Mère l’Oye (Mother Goose), which was originally composed for piano four-hands: music which, according to Ravel, was also intended to evoke “the poetry of childhood”. The work, whose title means roughly “old wives’ tale”, is drawn from various fairy tales, including Sleeping Beauty and Tom Thumb.