Opera Review: CENDRILLON (CINDERELLA) (Lyric Opera of Chicago)

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by Barnaby Hughes on December 4, 2018

in Music,Theater-Chicago


Never before performed at Lyric Opera, Jules Massenet’s Cendrillon cannot be more delightful, especially for those who love the lightness of French opera. Indeed, it is the only French opera programmed this season, and the second Massenet in three years. The score’s exuberance and playfulness is reminiscent of Bizet and Tchaikovsky, while its abundant dance music adds plenty of opportunities to lively up the action with ballet. In addition to ten dancers, Canadian director Laurent Pelly adds six actors for an exciting and intricate production.

Produced in association with the Royal Opera House Covent Garden, Gran Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona, Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie in Brussels and Opéra de Lille, Cendrillon is not just a new opera for Lyric Opera Chicago, but offers audiences a fantastic debut director and soloists. Among the latter are Australian soprano Siobhan Stagg in the title role, Australian bass-baritone Derek Welton as her father Pandolfe, and Canadian soprano Marie-Eve Munger as the Fairy Godmother. Munger’s airily agile coloratura recalls similar roles in Offenbach’s Tales of Hoffmann and Mozart’s Magic Flute.

In contrast to Rossini’s La Cenerentola (performed at Lyric three seasons ago), which departs in significant ways from Charles Perrault’s 1697 fairy tale, Massenet opts for a more faithful and traditional telling of the Cinderella story. There is a ball, a cruel stepmother and her two noble daughters, a father and daughter joined to them unequally, a fairy godmother who transforms the daughter into a princess, and an eligible prince for her to fall in love with. What’s unique about Henri Cain’s libretto are the more developed characterizations of the girl’s adoring father and of the lovelorn prince — a trouser role Massenet writes for soprano.

Ms. Stagg plays the titular heroine with appropriate modesty and humility, though it may be too understated for some. Her tight vibrato keeps her birdlike voice at perfect pitch with just enough texture to do justice to her girlish arias “Reste au foyer, petit grillon” and “Vous êtes mon Prince Charmant.” As the prince, Alice Coote’s much clearer and stronger soprano seems almost masculine by comparison.

Mr. Welton’s Pandolfe offers just enough humor and sympathy that we root for him as much as for his daughter, even though he lacks the temerity to confront his snobbish wife. His tender duets with Lucette (Cendrillon’s real name) are some of the most heart-warming moments of the opera.

Splendidly attired and commanding the most virtuosic role in Massenet’s fairy-tale fantasy, Ms. Munger makes an outstanding Fairy Godmother. Her introductory aria “Ah! Douce enfant” is one of the most magical in a superlatively magical production, displaying Munger’s excellent volume control and vocal dexterity.

Mr. Pelly’s whimsical vision is eclectic and imaginative. Instead of the Enchanted Forest setting of Act III, for example, he gives us Parisian rooftops. Intriguingly, when Lucette falls asleep in Act I, she is joined onstage by spirits who look just like her, down to the drab dress and braided wig. Why? Perhaps to show sympathy or to heighten the pageantry, for there is pageantry aplenty in this production, particularly in the ball scene. Pelly, who also designed the costumes, presents an amusing variety of shapes and styles for the women’s dresses, though all come in red except for Lucette’s sparkling silvery gown. Barbara de Limburg’s plain sets covered in the text of Perrault’s tale, expand and contract in sync with the production’s many moods.

Unlike the more adult operas that precede and follow it this season, Cendrillon is wonderfully family-friendly fare, appealing to young and old alike. Lyric’s production doesn’t take itself too seriously, but traffics in fantasy, fairy tale, and fun. Don’t miss this rare production.

photos by Todd Rosenberg

Cendillon (Cinderella)
Lyric Opera of Chicago
Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker Drive
ends on January 20, 2019
for tickets, call 312.827.5600 or visit Lyric Opera

for more shows, visit Theatre in Chicago

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