Midsummer may not seem the most obvious season for an outing to Cinderella but the Royal Opera has chosen Massenet’s version of the tale, here receiving its first ever performances in the house, as its final new production before the Summer break.
First seen in Santa Fe five years ago, it’s certainly not short of star performances. Eglise Guttiérez is La Fée (Fairy Godmother) and Ewa Podleś, in her first appearance at Covent Garden in two decades, is a waddling and fat-arsed stepmother Madame de la Haltière (fingers crossed that it’s mostly padding or I’m in big trouble).
Both shake the rafters, but it's the two world class mezzos at the centre of the story who shine the brightest. Joyce DiDonato as Lucette (or Cendrillon) and especially Alice Coote as Prince Charming are on tip top form.
Jean-Philippe Lafont is a hefty Pandolfe, skating over the trickier aspects of Cendrillon’s relationship with her father. Why is it that in every telling of Cinderella he never does anything about her pitiful situation? He hardly seems scared of the missus here, fearsome though Podleś is, yelling at her and her gormless daughters (Madeleine Pierard and Kai Rüütel) to go to hell.
Laurent Pelly’s production flounces and prances with gusto, never shying away from the tweeness at the heart of the work. There’s much loveliness in Massenet’s score, with its pastiche elements and inventive melodies, brought out with loving care by Bertrand de Billy, but it does feel like swimming through meringue with added cream.
As with the recent royal wedding, there’s a fashion parade of pinhead daughters of the aristocracy who flaunt themselves in an unseemly manner (I’m sure I saw a pretzel on one head) and when this bunch of inbreds try to fit the slipper at the end the whole thing starts up all over again. Pelly seems to be trying to be funny rather than satirical though; if the latter it's so gentle as to be barely noticeable.
Pelly sets the Fairy Oak scene on a rooftop with smoking chimneys but it still makes Mary Poppins look like a Tarantino movie. In fact, some bloodshed would go down a treat (toes sliced off, that sort of thing, à la Grimm) but no such luck. The Prince does threaten to hang his bleeding heart on the magic tree at one point but it turns out to be strictly metaphorical.
It’s a commonplace of opera that things take a long time to say and, when there’s nothing of any substantiality whatsoever, scenes can start to feel unendurable. La Fée’s Act 3 monologue, here sung languishing on a chimneytop, is a case in point and is interminable as a result. It’s not alone; all the principals outstay their welcome, dramatically if not vocally, at times.
Whether you buy Pelly’s strict adherence to the schmaltziness of the work or not, it has to be said he goes for it with panache and commitment.
As with the aforementioned royal nuptials, there’s enough fantasy and sugary wish-fulfilment to keep great swathes of the population happy. While offering nothing of any depth or insight, it’s sure to be a popular hit.
- Simon Thomas
Cendrillon will be broadcast to 12 BP Summer Big Screens on Wednesday 13 July at 7.30pm around the UK, including Trafalgar Square, Canary Wharf, Belfast, Bristol, Derby, Edinburgh, Middlesborough, Norwich and Swansea. Further details at www.roh.org.uk/bpbigscreens