Massenet(1842-1912) was trained at the Paris Conservatoire and he won the Prix de Rome in 1863. He was influenced by Meyerbeer,Berlioz,Gounod and his teacher Thomas. He was a timpanist at the L'Opera for a spell and learnt the craft of orchestration from the experience. As a teacher he had a considerable influence on Gustave Charpentier, composer of Louise.Massenets work had variety. For example,intimate tragedies such as Werther and Manon, Thais,human passion set against a background of religious fervour,the world of children which is shown in Werther and Cendrillon. His sense of theatrical timing is hard to fault, an operatic instinct he shared with Puccini and Verdi.He liked his leading ladies like Sybil Sanderson and wrote his female roles with real understanding like Thais,but he also wrote good roles for Men such as Des Grieux in Manon.In his music Massenet always aimed to please his public,so his compositions were rarely innovative.Yet the music is also charmingly lyrical and expressive.
The first performance of Cendrillon,Paris,Opera-Comique-24th May 1899. After decades of neglect,Massenets opera has enjoyed a revival since the late 1980's.Opera magazine called it" a lightweight piece using the Cinderella story as a vehicle for gorgeous ceremonial,seductive melody and dazzling virtuosity,with snatches of neo Baroque archaism and nursery rhyme to ensure a fairytale flavour".
The libretto by Henri Cain remains true to the original fairy tale by Charles Perrault with slighly more emphasis on magic.One of Massenets most attractive operas.The long suffering father of Lucette(Cendrillon) is married for the second time to a bossy woman,who has two daughters.The three women all treat Lucette badly.Her father is sorry to leave behind his daughter as they are off to a ball.Cinderella(Cendrillon)falls asleep.A fairy appears and provides her with a magnificent dress and glass slippers. She must leave the ball at midnight. When she arrives everyone is captivated by her,including the prince who falls in love with her. She leaves the ball and leaves a glass slipper behind. At home the women tell Lucette that the king wants to hang her. Cinderella takes refuge in the fairies domain where the spirits conjure up a meeting with the Prince. The Prince is said to be searching for the owner of the slipper. After many women try it on and fail,Cendrillon foot fits the slipper and everyone lives happily ever after. This work is witty, funny,very sophisicated and emotional.
Frenchman Laurent Pelly stage director and costumes designs states in the interview with him on the DVD,that what the opera means to him,is a big book as he saw it as a child. He bases his staging on the red book of this fairy tale with Dore illustrations,which was published at the beginning of the 20th Century.He tried to do away with the Disney kitsch influences. There is a mix in the costumes of 17th,19th and 20th Century haute culture. The whole production lies in the music,he states. Imagine that the characters are illustrations in the big red book which have come alive. That is why there is lettering all around the walls.
The costumes have a lot of red,with the two sisters dressed in very light green and orange in the same tonal values.The sets are minimalist,but change into a roof top in the fairy scene. One could say the opera is very traditional.The Royal opera house opera is conducted by Frenchman Bertrand de Billy,with elan and captures the sparkle and emotional pull of the piece.As he states" the music is a Pastiche of Baroque to modern music,where he predicts late Debussy.Cendrillon(Lucette)is Mezzo Joyce diDonato who is right into her part and has the correct voice for it.She likes the two duets with the Prince,which are the finest duet for mezzo's she has sung in.Alice Coote another Mezzo,but lighter. The two voices gel in the duets.The fairy God mother is sung by Soprano Eglise Gutierrez. In her light blue 19th Century dress with feathers coming from the back,with her punk red hair, she looks and fits the part perfectly. She hits all the high notes required. The father Jean-Phillippe Lafont, lyrical Baritone, is sympathetic in his part,especially in the duet with Lucette,"Come".The Step Mother Ewa Podles,is a contralto,and sings the part with humour.She wears outlandish dresses,as do her daugthers.Everyone else sings their roles well,including the chorus. I liked this rendition of the piece. However,Virgin places only brief information with the DVD's,not a booklet. So I have given enough details to make up for this. Also,I cannot understand why this opera is not in Bluray,after all it is has DTS surround sound. Dont be put off by this. I doubt whether another recording will be made of this opera.
NTSC-PAL.REGIONS worldwide. 16.9. Subtitles.English. French. German. Spanish.Italian.PCM Stereo and DTS 5.1 surround sound. Bonus-interviews with DiDonato,Coote,Pelly and De Billy.
Booklets: Manon-De Los Angles-Legay-Paris Opera-comique-Cond Monteux.CD. DVD Gruberova,Araiza,Vienna State Opera cond Fischer.
Werther-Carreras-Van Stade-Cond Colin Davis -orch of ROH-Covent Garden. DVD-Kaufmann-Koch orch National opera of Paris. Cond Plasson.
Thais-Fleming-Hampson-Bordeaux cond Abel CD. DVD Eva Mei Orch del Tealtro La Fenice di Venezia.
Cleopatre-Kathryn Harries Mezzo-Contralto.Orch de Saint-Etienne-cond Fournillier.CD(This is the last opera he wrote and finished two months before his death in June 1912).