Wexford Festival Opera 2019 Review: Cendrillon
A Light Piece Of Entertainment For The AfternoonBy Alan Neilson
(Photo: Paula Malone)
“Cinderella” is a popular subject for operas, and has attracted its fair share of composers over the years. However, one of the lesser known compositions must be by the French composer, Pauline Viardot, who today, is largely remembered as a famous mezzo-soprano for whom Gounod and Meyerbeer created important roles.
However, her influence went much further, for Viardot was also positioned at the centre of 19th century Parisian salon society; she was married to Louis Viardot, the director of Theatre Italien; formed very close relationships with Gounod and the Russian writer Turgenev; and knew many other famous and influential people in the music world such as Saint-Saëns and Chopin. She was also an a excellent pianist in her own right, and a respected teacher, but is probably best-known for her family connections; she was the sister of the famous singer Maria Malibran, and daughter of the tenor Manuel Garcia, who created the role of Count Almaviva in Rossini’s “Il Barbiere di Siviglia.” Viardot also found time to compose, including five salon operas, of which the 1904 “Cendrillon,” was the last.
Lasting approximately one hour, and written for piano and seven soloists it is an ideal piece for one of Wexford’s short works, performed during the afternoon at White’s Hotel.
Raimondi’s Take on Viardot
The story follows Perrault’s fairytale although the darker side of the plot has largely been removed. Gone is the Stepmother, and replaced by a Stepfather, who is arrogant and clueless rather than malicious, although the two sisters are still around to bully and torment Cinderella. The Fairy Godmother has an enlarged role, appearing more frequently, and sings at the Prince’s Ball. As in the original tale, it is full of magical transformations, and ends with Prince Charming placing the slipper on Cinderella’s foot, which brings everything to a happy ending.
The young cast engaged enthusiastically and spiritedly with the piece, in which director Davide Garattini Raimondi produced a suitably light reading, full of comedy; in this reading, the sisters have their fun too!
The set consisted mainly of boxes piled up at the back of the stage, as if Baron de Pictordu was down on his luck and being forced to sell up. Part of the clutter was a sign “Hotel Viardot,” which may have suggested that he had a hotel which he was being forced to close.
Marie (Cinderella) was costumed as a maid, which would fit in nicely with the idea. The transformation scene in which the Fairy Godmother creates a carriage, horse and so on out of a mousetrap and a pumpkin was very funny to watch, but the plastic sheeting used as a backdrop was miserable. Raimondi’s direction ensured that the work moved rapidly along, and his idea of having Cinderella deliberately drop her slipper at the ball was a nice touch.
The costumes designed by Luca Dalbosco, who was also the scenographer, were colorful, amusing and captured the characters’ situation and personalities well. Lighting designer Johann Fitzpatrick did a fine job, bathing the stage in rich colors, which compensated for the plastic sheets to an extent.
Marie (Cinderella) was played by the soprano Isolde Roxby. She gave a very sympathetic portrayal, in which she captured the step-daughter’s good-hearted nature, as well as the underlying sadness of her situation. Her singing displayed sensitivity and attention to detail with her middle register a particular delight. There was was an occasional harshness in the upper register but her fine singing made that but a minor detail, as did her intelligent acting.
Cinderella’s two sisters, Armelinde and Maguelonne, were played by mezzo-soprano Cecilia Gaetani and soprano Rachel Goode. Working in tandem they really appeared to be enjoying themselves as they sought to make Cinderella’s life a misery. Their treatment of the Prince when they thought he was a valet was well done, and highly amusing. Their reaction to him ending up with Cinderella priceless. Dressed in over-the-top dresses, one in green, one in red, they also looked the part. Goode has a secure, expressive voice with a pleasing timbre. Gaetani’s voice is warm and colourful. Both sang well
Baritone Ben Watkins was cast as the slow-witted Baron de Pictordu, Cinderella’s stepfather. In an earlier existence he was a greengrocer, a fact known to the Prince’s valet, making a nonsense of de Pictordou’s airs and graces. Watkins successfully played up the comedy of the role, which his colorful costumes helped furnish, but also brought pathos to the part with some nicely accented phrases.
The standout performance must go to Kelli-Ann Masterson, who played the role of La Fée, Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother. She possesses a captivating soprano, characterized by its crisp, pure tone. She was on stage for most of the performance watching what was happening and making notes. At the Prince’s ball she asked to sing a song, which allowed her to show off her beautiful and flexible coloratura.
Tenor Richard Shaffrey was parted in the role of Prince Charmant, who gave a smooth and charming performance. He also showed off his fine acting ability when disguising himself first as a beggar and then as his valet.
Comte Barigoule, his actual valet, was played by tenor Mark Bonney who gave a confident account; he responded with ease to the role’s comedic demands and sang with style.
As a group, the cast responded well to each other, creating a lively, energetic performance with a strong feel-good factor. This was particularly noticeable in the verbal exchanges, which had a natural quality to them, that allowed the comedy to flow. It also set the conditions for some good ensemble singing.
The pianist was Jessica Hall, who produced a lively performance, in line with the onstage drama.
“Cendrillon” would certainly not be the first choice for many people. However, it made for an enjoyable way to pass an hour; it was well-sung and directed, and would have provoked one or two smiles at least, even from the most severe of judges.