A MUSICAL FAIRY TALE

Cendrillon

A scene from Massenet’s Cendrillon. Photo: Ken Howard / Met Opera

Cendrillon, opera  by Jules Massenet to a French libretto by Henri Caïn, based on Perrault’s 1698 version of the Cinderella fairy tale. First performed at the Salle Favart in Paris on 24 May 1899. This production was first played at Santa Fe Opera, and is a co-production with the opera houses in London, Barcelona, Brussels and Lille. Performance at the Metropolitan Opera New York on 12 April 2018.

Pandolfe: Laurent Naouri
Madame de la Haltière: Stephanie Blythe
Noémie: Ying Fang
Dorothée: Maya Lahyani
Lucette, known as Cendrillon: Joyce DiDonato
The fairy godmother: Kathleen Kim
Prince Charming: Alice Coote

Metropolitan Opera Chorus & Orchestra
Conductor: Bertrand de Billy
Production: Laurent Pelly

Music:
Staging:

Massenet’s Cendrillon at the MET on April 12th, 2018, was a threefold premiere:  It was the first time ever in the MET’s history that they played it, it was the Gala Premiere of the series, and it was my first time to see this fairy-tale opera live. I had neither seen it nor listened to it before. I avoided listening to a recording, because it was a rare chance to hear an opera “virginally”, without comparing singers, conductors, or orchestras. I had only studied the score, and then – off to see it.

The production was very minimalistic. The scenery were walls, covered with the text of the original fairy tale Cinderella in French in calligraphic letters. Various pieces of furniture were moved in and out to change the scenes: single chairs, a bed, chimneys, etc. And it worked fine! Together with the costumes and the lightning, it indeed created a magical atmosphere throughout the evening, left enough space for one’s fantasy, and met the American audience’s taste.
They had a lot of fun throughout the evening, and were laughing hysterically about a cheerily walking character, an exaggeratedly looking costume, or just about … almost anything. Even when Cendrillon expressed her sadness over being alone, without her adored prince, they found it quite funny. I am not even sure, if the majority listened to the singing at all.

I did, and left the evening mainly happily, although Joyce DiDonato did not fulfil the high expectation I had due to her “star factor”. Her voice has a beautiful tone, and was especially convincing in the middle range. She also seemed to easily reach the high register. But if she had to keep a high note for too long, it became wobbly, and lower. One or two times I was afraid she could crack the note. This did not happen too often, though. The rest of her singing was delightful, as was her acting.

Her prince, Alice Coote, impressed with her strong and colourful voice, secure and powerful in all registers. However, in some duet scenes it became difficult to distinguish the two mezzo voices, because they sounded too similar. I loved their interaction and their total commitment to acting.

I very much liked the Godmother, Kathleen Kim. Her voice was perfect for this role, fairy-tale likely sweet, and beautiful also on her top notes. She sang with an ease, and she also looked like a real fairy with her fluffy, light-blue dress.

Another highlight in singing and acting was Stephanie Blythe. Her impressive physical appearance supported her strong, versatile, wide-ranged voice, as well as the comical side of her role. Together with Laurent Naouri, her pitiable husband Pandolfe, she got much laughter and applause. Pandolfe acted very funny as well, but his singing did not impress me as much as hers. Maybe it was intended, but for me, he sounded rather rough. It was not disturbing for that comical character, though.
The minor roles of Cendrillon’s stepsisters were flawlessly sung, and performed by Ying Fang and Maya Lahyani. This can also be said for all other supporting roles.

Bertrand de Billy, who had not convinced me conducting Luisa Miller in a previous performance, did convince me now. He led the orchestra with an easy hand, they seemed to dance through the score, elegantly stepped back, when the voices needed more space, and effervescently returned when necessary. Maybe one or two musicians from the wind section would apparently have had preferred playing Verdi rather than Massenet, but I guess not many people realised it as much as I (a former flautist) did.

I had the impression the audience wanted to get entertained rather than “musically satisfied”, they giggled and laughed throughout the evening, and they clapped at moments, when there was no reason to. However, the overall summary for this evening: great singing with hardly any major flaw, great acting, and a minimalistic, yet very nicely done staging. It was well worth going there.

You can enjoy this production in cinemas worldwide (MET Live in HD) on Saturday 28 April 2018.

Gabi Eder (Published on 14/4/2018)

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