Cendrillon, Jules Massenet’s French opera version of “Cinderella,” premiered in Paris in 1899 but is just now making its debut at Lyric Opera. What took so long? Changing taste in opera, with a turn away from frothy fairytales, for sure. But there’s also the fact that Massenet took the Western world’s most iconic story of romantic love—and made Prince Charming a soprano.
Now Cendrillon‘s time has come. Lyric’s cast features the wonderful mezzo-soprano Alice Coote as the smitten royal youth: she knows how to manspread and has a voice like a meteor streaking across a night sky. Australian soprano Siobhan Stagg is a Disney Cinderella with real emotion. She sings some of the opera’s loveliest music in duets with another Australian, bass-baritone Derek Welton, who plays her amusingly intimidated and pathetically weak father. Mezzo-soprano Elizabeth Bishop is the story’s comic star—deliciously horrid as the stepmother with regal ambitions for her own two klutzy daughters. Coloratura soprano Marie-Eve Munger floats Massenet’s highest notes as an elegant belle epoque fairy godmother.
This archly sophisticated production, conceived and directed by Laurent Pelly, is brilliantly designed and choreographed, and as much a visual as an aural delight. In tribute to its fairytale origins, everything transpires between the pages of a storybook. Pelly designed the costumes himself, including hilariously bulbous and geometric creations for two parades of potential brides. They’re hugely entertaining the first time around; less so when they reappear in the final act. It’s a minor qualm, but those princesses could use another set of amazing frocks. v