by Lynne Gray, PhD
Please note this is available at www.metopera.org
Saturday, June 27
Massenet’s Cendrillon ~ 2Hrs 22Mins
Starring Kathleen Kim, Joyce DiDonato, Alice Coote, Stephanie Blythe, and Laurent Naouri, conducted by Bertrand de Billy. From April 28, 2018.
We have already seen the wonderful Joyce DiDonato as Cinderella in Rossini’s opera about this same beloved fairy tale. Here again, it is retold with wit and whimsy, but this time encased in an atmosphere of faux French elegance. It has everything you’d expect—heartache, humor, hijinks, and a happy ending, all delivered on the wings of Massenet’s gorgeous music. In the quite literally storybook staging by Laurent Pelly, Charles Perrault’s original words come to life before your eyes, as the action unfolds in the pages of a book that forms the story’s backdrop.
Our Cinderella again is American mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato (we’ve seen her recently in Barbiere, Norma, Comte Ory, and Maria Stuarda, not to mention Cenerentola – same story different composer – and language!) Mezzo-soprano Alice Coote (Idomeneo, Exterminating Angel, and Hansel and Gretel) offers a touching portrayal in the trouser role of Prince Charming, while soprano Kathleen Kim (Hoffmann and Ballo) delivers her trademark gorgeous coloratura as the Fairy Godmother. Mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe (The Ring, Falstaff, Ballo, Orfeo, and Rodelinda) is the outlandish Madame de la Haltière (the wickedly funny step- mother), and bass-baritone Laurent Naouri, is the haggard Pandolfe, Cinderella’s father. Note – the three starring roles in this opera are all sung by mezzos – Cinderella, Prince Charming and the wicked Stepmother. Massenet’s wonderful score purposefully features a preponderance of lower female voices that were so favored by French composers in the 19th century. Only the fairy godmother is a high soprano. The two-mezzo love duets in this opera are among the most beautiful ever written. On the podium, conductor Bertrand de Billy leads a performance that is equal parts madcap comedy and heartfelt romance.
Laurent Pelly’s marvelously whimsical costumes make this production a pure joy to watch. The core of the style is Belle Époque with a fanciful twist, but the haute couture of this fairy-tale world is delightfully bizarre. One of the great comic coups of the evening is the parade of daffy debutantes in the Act II ball scene, each sporting a red dress more absurd than the last as they bounce, sashay, and galumph their way across the stage and into the royal presence.
So – unlike Rossini’s Cenerentola, which was pure ‘opera buffa’ with humor added by having numerous characters always showing up in disguise, Massenet’s Cendrillon stays more true to the story we all grew up with – definitely a fairy tale complete with magic, glass slippers and all (which Rossini cut out), but like most good fairy tales, this one also has an important and emotional dark side.
Cinderella’s father, Pandolfe, is a country gentleman, who has married Madame de la Haltière, an imperious countess. She and her daughters, Noémie and Dorothée, bully Pandolfe’s daughter from his first marriage, Lucette—also known as Cendrillon. We first see busy ball preparations going on in the Chateau of Madame de la Haltière, where Pandolfe is privately wondering why he left his peaceful life in the country to marry a selfish, domineering countess. He regrets the treatment his daughter is receiving but seems powerless to change things. The story proceeds as we all know it, the vain stepsisters (whose comic costumes force them to walk like ducks (you’ll just have to see it!), the quaint and slightly ditzy fairy godmother, accompanied by a squad of helpers all dressed like Cinderella, the coach cleverly constructed out of the French word “Carrosse” (carriage), the bored Prince Charming at the hilarious ball, the lost slipper – it’s all there.
The opera’s more serious side is revealed in Act III after Cinderella’s return from the ball when she overhears her stepsisters insist that Prince Charming rejected the unknown beauty after she abruptly left the ball. Cinderella is distraught and is tenderly comforted by her father who promises her they will go back to the country the very next day. When she is alone, she remembers her mother’s death and escapes alone into the night to save her father from more pain. Lost in the forest, she winds up at the enchanted Fairies’ Oak. As if in a dream, the Prince and Cinderella are drawn together by the fairies, they cannot see each other, but recognize each other’s voices and sing together of their love, finally falling peacefully asleep in each other’s arms.
The last act takes place several months later. Cinderella was apparently found unconscious by a stream and has been lovingly watched over by her father ever since. When she awakens, her father tells her she has been deliriously raving about the prince and an oak tree and a slipper. As he finally convinces her she has been dreaming, the stepsisters enter to announce that the prince has summoned young maidens from throughout the country to the palace in the hope of finding the unknown beauty – and of course, each must try on a glass slipper the prince has found. We are treated to another hilarious slipper trying on ceremony at the palace until the Fairy Godmother finally shows up with Cinderella – a delightful happy ending!
This is yet another wonderful Met offering for the entire family – a truly enchanting several hours!
1. Joyce DiDonato as Cendrillon in Massenet’s opera at the Met. Photo Credit: Beth Bergman / Metropolitan Opera. Cendrillon’s carriage is constructed from the letters of “carrosse,” the old French term for a royal coach.
2. From left: Maya Lahyani, Stephanie Blythe, and Ying Fang as the wicked stepfamily in Laurent Pelly’s fanciful staging of Massenet’s Cendrillon at the Met. Credit…Sara Krulwich/The New York Times.
3. The fairy godmother, La Fée (Kathleen Kim, center), surrounded by spirits and standing over the sleeping Cendrillon. Credit…Sara Krulwich/The New York Times.
4. Alice Coote (seated) in Laurent Pelly’s ball scene for Massenet’s Cendrillon at the Met. Credit…Sara Krulwich/The New York Times.
5. Prince Charming (Alice Coote, kneeling) confirming that the glass slipper is Cendrillon’s in the Met’s production of Massenet’s Cendrillon. Credit…Sara Krulwich/The New York Times.