Thursday, February 4, 2021

CENDRILLON (Royal Opera)****


By Louise


Available until: 21 February 2021

The story of Cinderella has been mentioned on this blog quite a lot. It is a very popular story for a pantomime and there were a few livestreamed versions, including Covidella and the Masked Ball. Glyndebourne Festival Opera put their production of La Cenerentola on YouTube. Imogen reviewed Into the Woods, which includes Cinderella.

It’s a very popular story and Jules Massenet was another composer who thought it would make a good opera. Massenet is best-known for his tragedies like Werther, Manon and Thaïs so I’m quite surprised he wrote a Cinderella opera, but he is absolutely right – it is a great story for an opera and it was a great opera for him to write. The romantic music is obviously beautiful and he shows he’s very capable of writing not just happy endings but comedy. Bertrand De Billy conducts Massenet’s music beautifully, bringing out the beautiful phrases and filling them with swells of emotion. But he’s also great at the musical jokes.

Cendrillon follows the pantomime story, which we probably all know, a lot more closely than La Cenerentola. Cendrillon (as Cinderella is called, her real name is Lucette) has an evil stepmother (sung by a woman, though a counter tenor could sing it), two Ugly Sisters (though they looked very pretty to me) and there is a Fairy Godmother. Cinderella also has a father.

The story is a bit different at the end. I won’t say how because it’s a spoiler, but there is a reason why there’s a whole hour of opera after Cendrillon gets home from the ball. Massenet’s librettist Henri Caïn decides not to make it too easy for Cinderella and the Prince. This means Massenet has the opportunity to write some really sad, emotional music, which he is especially known for.

This production is by Laurent Pelly, who also designed the costumes and he has really used the costumes to help him present the characters. Cinderella starts off by looking neat but plain and her ball dress is elegant and classy. The dresses worn by the Sisters suggest comedy. I am a bit surprised the Prince isn’t a bit more glamorous, but when you have a female Prince, you sometimes need to work a bit harder to make the audience suspend their disbelief. But this Prince is very masculine.

There are some quite long musical sections without singing and Laura Scozzi has some produced choreography which is either beautiful or fun depending on what the occasion asks for. Barbara de Limburg’s sets are simple but elegant – they look lovely, especially in the more magical sections, but the sets never distract you from the characters. This is especially important as the Chorus are often enacting little stories or showing characterisation which you don’t want to miss.

When you think of a hero and heroine, the most common pairing is a soprano and a tenor, but Cendrillion has two mezzos. It was written for a soprano and a falcon (a French voice-type somewhere between a soprano and a mezzo-soprano. I have also heard the term ‘tre quarti soprano’, though there is only one mention of this on google and it’s from 1996). But both mezzos in this production, Joyce DiDonato and Alice Coote, are both known for their big range (both in tessitura and styles of music they can sing) and they are very comfortable with their music.

Ms DiDonato is very good at the vivacious roles, but she can scale it down to be a quieter character like Cendrillon without losing her stage presence or the magnificence of her voice. She is classy in every part of her performance. Ms Coote is more conventionally masculine than most of the tenor Princes in La Cenerentola, but that doesn’t stop her from portraying the Prince’s emotion in a really heartrending way.

Eglise Gutiérrez is cool as Le Fée (the Fairy Godmother, majestic in her manner and in her voice. Ewa Podles presents the comedy perfectly as Madame De La Haltiѐre, Cinderella’s stepmother, and Jean-Philippe Lafonte is loveable as Pandolfe, her father. Madeleine Pierard and Kai Rüütel (who is female, in case you’re wondering) are very funny as Noémie and Dorothée, the Sisters.

It is really interesting to see another retelling of a classic story and Massenet, Caïn and everyone involved in this production tell the story really well.

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