Massenet's Fairy Story
Jules Massenet held sway in France during the latter half of the nineteenth century, Cendrillion, saw the light of day in Paris in 1899 (its composer had just had his 57th birthday) and before the century was out it was produced in Geneva. Massenet was a good business man and a crowd pleaser, keeping a watchful eye on the fortunes of his operas, even turning up at the Paris Opéra after performances to check the takings.
He would have been chuffed to find that the Royal Opera House was almost sold out for the second performances (July 7) there of his fairy tale opera based on the Perrault story of Cinderella, a co-production with Santa Fe, Barcelona, Brussels and Lille. Cendrillon, as she is called in France, is a four act piece and at Covent Garden the writing is on the wall, not only on the set periphery but also on various little walls trundled onto the middle of the stage. If I had brought my opera-glasses with me I might have been able to read what the texts were about.
The two principal characters are, naturallement, Cendrillon and le prince Charmant, beautifully sung by Joyce DiDonato and Alice Coote, both mezzo-sopranos capable of moving to higher regions. This was exquisite singing, no wobbles, lovely line, and two voices blending perfectly. Both good actors. There was also fine singing from the Fairy Godmother, a sort of Queen of the Night mark two in range but without malevolence, the singer rejoicing in the name of Eglise Gutierrez. Jean-Philippe Lafont made rather heavy weather of Pandolfe, Cinders' father but the mother was a super fruity contralto, Ewa Podles. Chorus good and the orchestra directed with surety and style by Bertrand de Billy, a former pianist. The sets were fussy, the costumes rather tediously ranged from scarlet to red. Production was o.k., Laurent Pelly.
The music? Well, not one of Massenet's best. Jog-trot, no particular charm or attraction. Well written, everything in its place, thoroughly professional but nothing to savour. And Massenet doesn't do humour, there were long stretches of boredom.