Exquisite Magic

Massenet – Cendrillon.

Pandolfe – Laurent Naouri
Madame de la Haltière – Ewa Podleś
Noémie – Cristina Obregón
Dorothée – Marisa Martins
Lucette – Joyce DiDonato
La Fée – Annick Massis
Le Surintendant – Toni Marsol
Le Doyen – Jordi Casanova
Le Premier ministre – Manel Esteve Madrid
Le Prince charmant – Alice Coote
Le Roi – Isaac Galán

Cor del Gran Teatre del Liceu, Orquestra Simfònica del Gran Teatre del Liceu / Andrew Davis.
Stage Director – Laurent Pelly.

Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona. Monday, December 30th, 2013.

I have mentioned before in this blog that Joyce Di Donato is an artist who just when it seems she is at her peak just gets better and better. Tonight was no exception. That she was part of an ensemble cast with no weak link might sound like a cliché but that was most certainly the case and the cumulative effect was overwhelming. It was simply one of those evenings where as each one of the principals entered, they raised the bar higher and higher.

I had previously seen this staging with a very similar cast at the Royal Opera House back in 2011. Laurent Naouri was a major change to the cast and it must be said an extremely positive one. His singing was wholly idiomatic – as was the entire cast’s, no surtitles were necessary – and his richness of tone was of great advantage in the role. La Podleś is a force of nature and so she was tonight. Her chest register is a thing of wonder as is her gloriously fruity tone and she gamely fully entered into the spirit of the production. She is quite simply a phenomenon. Cristina Obregón and Marisa Martins sparkled in the roles of Noémie and Dorothée, great comic timing and real vocal personality certainly delivered the goods.

Then there was Massis as la Fée. She is a wonderful singer with an effortless top and easy coloratura. What I loved about her is that despite the vocal fireworks, one could still understand every single word. A slight tendency to sing on the sharp side of notes might have disturbed some but I found her to be wonderful. Alice Coote offered ardent and warm singing as the Prince with a beautiful sense of line, her rich tone contrasting nicely with Di Donato’s.

Joyce gave another outstanding performance. For me, she was even finer than she was at Covent Garden because tonight her singing married text and music in the most wonderful way. The way she invested her lines with feeling, the highlighting of words and individual phrases was just glorious. Her first aria ‘reste au foyer, petit grillon’ was a perfect example of how to simply let the music speak by shading of text and music. The repetition of ‘vous êtes mon prince charmant’ in Act 2 had a warmth and a yearning that could melt even the hardest of hearts. I have seen Joyce give some stunning performances over the years – starting with the first time I saw her as Cenerentola in this very theatre – but this may well be the finest I have heard from her. It was sensational.

Andrew Davis solicited playing of great richness and finesse from the Liceu orchestra. It was also paced to perfection in a work that can be inclined to drag. He wasn’t afraid to relax and take things slowly but he seemed to always have an overview over the entire piece so that any longueurs there might have been were brief. The chorus had a very good night. There’s not much that can be said about the staging given that I had seen it before but it was certainly exercised with great fluency even if the sets were a bit noisy.

This was an exquisite end to a wonderful year of opera. I was saddened to see many empty seats – mostly in the highest price categories – as this was one of the best shows I have seen at the Liceu. It was simply one of those evenings where everything came together to create magic.

 

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