Sunday 28th October – double cross dressing in rural Sussex.

To Glyndebourne for a late afternoon performance of Cendrillon, Jules Massenet’s 1899 fairy-tale opera based on the Cinderella story, performed by Glyndebourne Touring Opera (now in its 50th year). I was accompanied by Mrs. M.A.E. and two friends who are both keen gardeners and regular opera goers, so Glyndebourne suits both interests.

Your Man approached the show with both high expectation having attended a study day on the opera (see post for October 7th) and some trepidation having been disappointed by La Traviata (see post for October 15th). Also having seen Joyce di Donato star in Laurent Pelly’s charming Royal Opera production (2011) I knew what a magical pleasure it could be, and was slightly nervous as to what cutting edge director Fiona Shaw (I saw her gritty version of Britten’s Rape of Lucretia in the same house) might do with it. A delicious glass of champagne kindly provided by our guests prepared me for whatever Ms. Shaw had up her sleeve.

I needn’t have worried. Apart from a couple of interventions early and late in the opera (more on these later) the magic was mostly kept throughout, through clever touches and above all through enormous mirrors. Cendrillon’s stepmother-from-hell (Agnes Zwierko) and her two spoied brat daughters (Eduarda Melo and Kezia Bienek) hugely enjoy their roles and are very entertaining. Caroline Wettergreen as the Fairy (-Godmother) has a wonderful coloratura voice, and played her role to perfection. Alix le Saux in the title role was adept at making the transition from the dowdy, put upon Cinders to the beautiful bell of the ball in a stunning electric blue dress Her duets with her Prince Charming (Eleonore Pancrazi) were glorious. Massenet (like Richard Strauss) was deeply in love with all of the various female operatic voices, but in the one major male role, Cendrillon’s father, Pandolfe, the production was not at all let down by the sensitive portrayal by Lionel Lhote, especially in a touching duet with his daughter. The orchestra and conductor Duncan Ward clearly enjoyed playing the delightful fairy music and various pastiches of Verdi, Meyerbeer and Wagner. A quintet of dancers added interest to many scenes, particularly when the Fairy is dressing Cendrillon for the ball.

The points which puzzled me? Well, early on the Prince seemed to be being observed by a white coated medical team while he slept, presumably looking for signs of a mental illness or deviation which might prevent him choosing a bride from all of the princesses on offer. This was a valid interpretation I suppose, but why were they all smoking? More importantly, when the slipper fits Cendrillon, the Prince, already of course a trouser role for a soprano, changes his/her gold lame jacket for (a rather dowdy) light brown dress. No doubt this is some kind of signe de nos jours for Ms. Shaw, but I wonder what purpose it serves, save to give the audience something to discuss during the drive home.

Despite these no doubt fogeyish quibbles, this is an inventive, and, in parts, strikingly beautiful production, with singing and playing of a high standard. (****). The production continues on tour at Norwich, Woking and Milton Keynes, finishing on 28th November.


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