Massenet – Cendrillon / ROH 2011 (2)

(Previous section here.)

Cendrillon3Visually there is a gesture or two at Perrault’s seventeenth-century France – the ministers at court are dressed in wigs and suits that evoke the late 1600s. Some of the imagery is vaguely Victorian. In Act III, for instance, the prince and Cendrillon wander in search of one another not in a forest of trees but through a forest of rooftops and glowing chimneys. When she’s in her grimy rags, Cendrillon’s black boots and stripey tights are also imaginary-Victorian-urchin like.

Cendrillon4Cendrillon5This might all sound a little cacophonous visually, but the thing is held together by (among other things) its color scheme. Nearly everything is black, white and red, with a few splashes of other colors here and there, e.g. the stepsisters’ ugly pink and green housedresses. At the ball, the ladies of the kingdom who parade by to try to catch the eye of Prince Charming (Alice Coote) are all dressed in red, as are all the courtiers, and ditto the carpets and draperies. The effect is to set off Cendrillon when she finally shows up in her luminous white dress, though the contrast isn’t as dazzling as you might expect (maybe it’s the lighting?) but none of this really matters, because right after this happens Joyce DiDonato and Alice Coote get to sing a duet, a concept illustrated both by the photo above of them singing it and this additional picture of a bottle of German-language soda, although who is cola and who is orange is probably a matter best left to the experts. Though I guess we could assign values based on hair color, which would make JDD orange and Coote cola. (Or we could go nuts and mix in some cherry pop as well?)

mezzo mix The two mezzos are the highlight of the show as far as I am concerned. I have been happy listening to Joyce DiDonato so many times in the past that – I suppose this is a piece of permanent mental architecture now – just hearing her voice makes me happy, because it reminds me of all the other times, even if it’s not necessarily the most transcendently awesome thing she’s ever done. (That would be the live version of Drama Queens, I think.) But she and Coote knock out some very sweet singing together here. Hearing the two of them sing Massenet is a little like hearing JDD on her own singing Rossini. You might not seek out the music on its own to listen to over and over again, but she brings it to life while she’s performing it.

There are also a lot of pretty moments in the orchestral music. I noticed several solo violin lines during the Cendrillon/Prince duet in Act II, as well as the little section for flute and I think harp when midnight has struck and our heroine has fled. Bertrand de Billy and the ROH’s orchestra provide a very crisp and clean rendition of the opera’s several ballet sections – and the choreography of these is often fairly entertaining, e.g. among the women who parade in front of the prince at the ball there are four dancers who operate as a set; they return later with all the others to try on the glass slipper, to the alarm of all the prince’s ministers.