Manhattan School of Music 2017-18 Review – Cendrillon: The Best Way to Get Into Holiday Spirit

By Jennifer Pyron

As Manhattanites anxiously awaited the arrival of this Holiday season’s first snow, everyone seemed to buzz with excitement and wonder.  This magical contagion was carried into the opening night of Manhattan School of Music’s production of “Cendrillon.”  Everyone gathered in an intimate Baroque style setting at the Alliance Française’s Florence Gould Hall, and it only felt natural to partake in the childlike element of surprise when presented with a never-before-heard version of one of our favorite fairy tales.

A team of brilliant minds, Jennifer Gliere, William Tracy, Pierre Vallet and Dona Vaughn, literally brought to life Nicolo Isouard’s “Cendrillon.” William Tracy noted that there was no standardized score order to the instrumentation and therefore, countless hours were spent when the team took on the challenge of presenting this unique piece. MSM created this additional wow factor, giving the audience something brand new to experience, and proving that they value and cherish the necessary teamwork and creative innovation that it takes to truly master a labor of love.

Refined Performing All Around

Pierre Vallet’s refined approach to the luscious overture immediately set the tone from the start for the audience to rest assured that an honest delivery would be the key overall theme.  Every single note that both Nicole Rodriguez, solo horn, and Hannah Murphy, harp, played was an emotional experience.  Both instruments drew attention to the exceptional score and highlighted how intimately the Baroque style is and should be experienced. Listeners reveled in the pure magic at hand and greatly appreciated what must have been a tedious effort to reconstruct.

The stage also blended in perfectly with this distinguished approach, as it displayed a notable Renoir blue in the room of the Baron’s castle, and a simple silver vase abundant with a sumptuous array of flowers spilling over onto the perfect Parisian accent table, symbolizing the elegant chaos that was about to unfold.

Cast of Upcoming Stars

The opening dialogue in English also nurtured an attraction to the hysterics of the stepsisters played by Abigail Shapiro (Tisbé), and Hyeree Shin (Clorinde). Both ladies were quick to expose their exuberant behaviors which were only capitalized by their preening father, the Baron. His exquisite taste for only the finest things in life was met with the shocking fact that the family did not have the means to uphold such a lifestyle, but this did not stop all three of them from their over-the-top personalities and pursuit of classified elitism. William Huyler’s role as the Baron was enthusiastically portrayed and both daughters, Tisbé and Clorinde added to the vivaciousness by stylishly and unapologetically displaying themselves at all times.  The audience could not help but fall in love with their humor and quirky charm.  Singing “Arrangeons ces fleurs,” Shapiro and Shin were vocally on point and in context.

A tenderness and warmth immediately filled the hearts of the audience when Amanda Austin, as Cendrillon, sang “Il était un p’tit homme.”  Austin is a second year Master’s degree candidate, studying with Marlena Malas.  Her role as Cendrillon was a perfect fit and she delivered with elevated efficacy.  When Alidor, Canadian baritone Marcel Sokalski, approached the castle disguised as a beggar, he showcased his rich timbre with “Ayez pitié de ma misère.” Afterwards, the sounds of the royal hunt are heard and the Prince, played by Tenor Michael St Peter, entered the scene. This role captured St Peter’s gentle interpretation and demeanor as a tenor.  His attention to detail both emotionally and musically was profound.

Memorable Moments

Act two opens with a delightful delivery by the chorus that lulls Cendrillon and the listeners into a dream-like state.  What is most pleasant in this moment, is how the fairy tale stays refined and on point with what is written in the score.  Often, productions can get carried away in the creative process, but MSM left the magic to be created in the hands of the singers and the orchestra.  The music was the real fantasy factor and the listener’s imagination was satiated with its profound beauty alone. Another memorable part of Act two was St Peter’s voice in “O sexe aimable,” as he delicately placed each note in his phrases and melted our hearts with the passion that he naturally and effortlessly exuded.  We all floated together in a hypnotized state of fairy tale trance.  Just as we thought nothing could disrupt the calm, the animated step-sisters whisked us away with their hilariousness.

A favorite scene by all was when Tisbé and Clorinde rolled and writhed on the stage floor together in a tussle to the bitter end for the disguised prince’s heart.  The audience howled in laughter and was eating out of their hands, waiting for the next comic outburst.

Dandini, portrayed by Las Vegas native Marshall Morrow, heightened the hysterics when he aimed hard to woo the step-sisters.  Morrow’s shrewd mustache matched his character’s cleverness perfectly and he made for an exciting addition to the production.  In Act three, the cast never falters in keeping up with the opera’s high energy level and quick pace. This is another star factor that proves this opera to be, as William Tracy and Dona Vaughn state, “the perfect little jewel box.”

At the close, when the Prince introduces Cendrillon as their new sovereign, “Honneur, honneur,” the entire cast unites with a jubilant reprise and sends excitement out into the audience with not only their voices, but also their costumes and character quirks.  Everybody on stage was enthralled with their role and made for a special treat to witness. It is profound to think of how much effort was utilized to create this production, but it is even more remarkable to see it all come together in such an outstanding and historically notable way with MSM’s “Cendrillon.”


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