Cinderella meets her charming prince…

Massenet – Cendrillon.

Pandolfe – Jean-Philippe Lafont

Madame de la Haltière – Ewa Podleś

Noémie – Madeleine Pierard

Dorothée – Kai Rüütel

Lucette – Joyce DiDonato

La Fée – Eglise Gutiérrez

Le Surintendant – Dawid Kimberg

Le Doyen – Harry Nicoll

Le Premier ministre – John-Owen Miley-Read

Le Prince charmant – Alice Coote

Le Roi – Jeremy White

Royal Opera Chorus, Orchestra of the Royal Opera House / Bertrand de Billy.  Stage Director – Laurent Pelly.  Royal Opera House London, Saturday July 16th, 2011.  

The main reason for attending this show was of course Joyce DiDonato as Cendrillon. Around her, the Royal Opera had managed to assemble a terrific cast consisting of some of the finest singers around today. Joyce was naturally superb in the title role.  Some of the early reviews were not particularly complimentary but it appears that she was sick on the first night.  Today, she was on top form, the voice even from top to bottom and everything sung in an impeccable French.  Indeed, the diction on the whole was excellent.  Perhaps, her tone was too close to Alice Coote’s as the Prince but this is partly Massenet’s fault too.  Joyce managed to pull the audience in during her arias which can tend to drag on a bit but here were captivating.  Coote as the Prince sang probably her finest work yet.  She was completely inside the role, her ardent singing fearless throughout the range.  One got a real sense of a prince desperate with a life full of ennui who was desperate to meet ‘the one’.  

Naturally, La Podleś almost stole the show as Madame de la Haltière.  Her tone might not be as fresh as it once was but it is still a formidable instrument.  She was obviously in her element in the role, with the characterization continuing even into the curtain calls.  I wish someone had had the foresight to cast her as Didon as she could have been magnificent in that role.   Still, I hope that I have the opportunity to hear her as Klytämnestra again soon.

Jean-Philippe Lafont had an announcement made that he was suffering from kidney stones.  Fortunately, this wasn’t apparent in his singing but his tone was woolly and diction, despite being the sole francophone in a leading role, was fuzzy.  Eglise Gutiérrez has an affectingly smoky tone which manages to mask the fact that she can’t quite do a decent trill.  This is a role that I would have loved to have heard a young Natalie Dessay in.  Today, I missed the clarity of tone of the typical French coloratura although Gutiérrez’ high notes were brilliant.  The sisters and the supporting cast were fine.  Renato Balsadonna’s chorus sounded a bit threadbare and could have done with a bit more time with the language coach.

Laurent Pelly’s production had a few of the quirks of his now celebrated Fille du regiment.  This gave it a bit of a sense of déjà vu.  Sets (Barbara de Limburg) were very basic but efficient enough.  A bit like Bertrand de Billy’s conducting.  The truth is that this is not really Massenet’s finest hour. There are some wonderful moments but the piece as a whole could do with a lot of tightening up.  de Billy might have been able to mask that with more fluid tempi but speeds on the whole were perhaps slower than ideal.

This was certainly a stimulating afternoon.  The singing was first rate yet it never quite managed to assuage one’s doubts about the piece as a whole.  It was rapturously received by the audience and justifiably so as it gave us the opportunity to see three of the finest women singers around at the moment and that is really something to be grateful for.

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