Massenet Cendrillon, Royal Opera House, London
Wednesday 06 July 2011
The words are in French but still familiar - “Once upon a time...” – and the story which follows, Cendrillon (that’s Cinderella to you and me), is writ large across the surfaces of Barbara de Limburg’s set, opening like a pop-up book of fairytales whose sliding panels have our eyes hanging on to every word.
Even Cendrillon’s magic coach is fashioned from the letters spelling “Carosse”. So the tale’s the thing alight, and Massenet’s version of it – staged here for the first time at the Royal Opera House – is all about seeking to inhabit that magical place on the threshold of dreams where things are too good to be true – until they are not.
The director Laurent Pelly – the man with the magic wand – understands that everything centres on the dizzying rapture of the duets between Lucette (Cendrillon) and her Prince Charming and with the Royal Opera casting at strength - Joyce Didonato (Cendrillon) and Alice Coote (Prince Charmant) - that dynamic was at the heart of the evening’s success. It was interesting hearing Didonato inhabiting the top end, the soprano register, of her wide vocal compass (she’s essentially a mezzo with reach) and there were moments in piano above the stave where the voice was initially reluctant to “speak”. Was she a little under the weather, perhaps, or is this role borderline high for her in the softer dynamics? The full voice – so solid in the middle range – was as exciting as ever, bolstered and enriched by her winning personality. Even where Cinderella’s heart was heavy the singing was not.
At first glimpse of Prince Charming you might think that they’ve bucked convention and cast a male alto in the role. Alice Coote looks and sounds so dashing, so virile (another mezzo with a terrific top), so male, that disbelief is not just suspended but vanquished.
Much of Pelly’s wit is exhibited here in his own costume designs. Red is the colour of choice for the would-be princesses, paraded like so much tasteless confectionary, and Cendrillon’s indomitable stepmother is done up like a monster bon-bon in a hall of distorting mirrors. She is none other than the legendary Polish contralto Ewa Podles who now uses the break into her chest register like a weapon of mass destruction.
And, of course, there’s the Fairy Godmother – Eglise Gutiérrez – dispensing her stratospheric coloratura like fairy-dust from her place among the chimney stacks. Down in the pit, Bertrand de Billy keeps the soufflé rising.
Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air
Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression
tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Woman 'suffocates newborn baby in plastic bag and puts it in her desk minutes after giving birth'
- 2 I've been called an abusive and dangerous parent, when all I did was listen to my transgender child
- 3 Company breaks open Apple Watch to discover what it says is 'planned obsolescence'
- 4 Teaching profession headed for crisis as numbers continue to drop and working lives become 'unbearable'
- 5 Chinese student carries disabled friend to school every day for three years
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins
Al Pacino admits he was nearly fired from The Godfather and it's still his most 'difficult role'
Warner Music owner Len Blavatnik tops Sunday Times Rich List
London Marathon: Best running songs from Beyoncé and Kendrick Lamar to 'Uptown Funk'
Oldest footage of London landmarks released
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
The sickening truth about food banks that the Tories don't want you to know
Migrant boat disaster: Ukip candidate mocks victims in sickening Twitter post
Nigel Farage wants the BBC to stop making programmes like Doctor Who, Strictly Come Dancing, and Top Gear
Global warming: Scientists say temperatures could rise by 6C by 2100 and call for action ahead of UN meeting in Paris
General Election 2015: Britain would become a 'communist dictatorship' under Ed Miliband and Nicola Sturgeon, claims wife of Michael Gove