COMPOSERS: Jules Massenet
LABELS: Virgin Classics
ALBUM TITLE: Massenet Cendrillon
PERFORMER: Joyce DiDonato, Eglise Gutuérrez, Alice Coote, Ewa Podlés; Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Royal Opera Chorus/Bertrand de Billy; dir. Laurent Pelly
CATALOGUE NO: 6025099
With a stage framed by the old-fashioned text of Perrault’s original Cinderella story, Laurent Pelly’s production has a style all of its own. Pelly designed the riotous red costumes as well, working in tandem with Barbara de Limburg’s ingenious sets. Yet he’s also versatile at keeping tabs on Massenet’s cornucopia of styles – from Baroque pastiche to Wagnerian passion – in this underrated if overextended charmer of an opera. Amid the French fripperies, the heart is undeniably there in the two gorgeous duets for Cendrillon and her Prince Charming. Joyce DiDonato is winning in Cinderella’s smiles and tears, though vocally a little edgy. But she’s well ballasted by another mezzo-soprano in the trousers role, Alice Coote, who is intense and incandescent: the star performance. Also in a class of her own is Ewa Podlés, as a suitably parodic stepmother. A notch below are Jean-Philippe Lafont’s initially blustery father Pandolphe and Eglise Gutierrez’s blowsy courtesan of a Fairy Godmother.
Much of the magic and inventiveness go on the first half, featuring multiple Cinderellas as spirits in a bewitchingly lit transformation scene and a ballroom ballet, sometimes cut, choreographed as a wickedly funny freak-show fashion parade of noble ladies anxious to get their hands on the prince. Only one scene doesn’t work for me: the relocation of the exquisitely sung second duet from a natural landscape to chimney-potted roofscape; the key point that the lovers can’t at first see each other, thanks to a tree, is unclear. In the extras we get generous interviews with DiDonato, Coote, Pelly and Bertrand de Billy.