This 2011 Royal Opera House production of Cendrillon is of the best. However, for several reasons, that doesn't mean than every viewer will like it and that's probably, in the main, due to Massenet's slant on this most popular of all fairy tales, of which there are several versions from different parts of Europe. One variant is the status and attitude of Cinderella's father, who is sometimes portrayed as her father wed a second time, sometimes as her step father who is sometimes also her uncle and sometimes not. In all these versions the step mother always has two not very good looking daughters who she favours above all else and relegates Cinderella to a household servant who spends a deal of time seeing to the fires and cleaning out the cinders amongst which she sleeps. Hence her name: Cinderella.
In this production the role of Cinderella (Cendrillon) is portrayed by larger than life dominant personality Joyce DiDonato. The other dominant personality in the show is Madame de la Haltiere brilliantly played and sung by Ewa Podles. The two ugly sisters don't much to do in this version of the story, except just to look silly. Pendolfe the hen-pecked father, played by Jean-Philippe Lafont, comes across as comes across as a truly henpecked, spineless character caught between the poerful charcters of his domineering wife and self-assertive daughter Cendrillon of whom one wonders how such a powerful personality could possibly have allowed herself to be dominated by the two ugly sisters for so long. Prince Charmant, a trouser role well played by Alice Coote, is yet another weak character waiting to be picked off by the powerful Cendrillon, if the equally powerful stepmother Madame de la Holtiere.
There are actually three powerful characters in this version of the Cinderella, all female: Cendrillon, Madame de la Haltiere and the Fairey Godmother played and sung by Eglise Gutierrez, who surely has to be the most tartish fairy godmother ever. There's an episode in Act 3 when she gets dangerously close to performing a striptease, something quite in keeping with this riotous version of the Cinderella story. I found that the best way to truly appreciate and enjoy this production is to concentrate on these three characters and allow everything else to revolve around them. Of course, we cannot know if Massenet intended it all to be seen like this, but it certainly makes for enjoyable viewing.
The orchestration is excellent as are the support cast such as those representing the four horses pulling the coach, who were dressed as humans with horse heads. They were prancing and tossing their heads just like real horses and they were an absolute delight. It's inspiring little touches such as this throughout the work that makes this production special. For instance there's a delightful episode right at the beginning in which the servants are bustling around warning of the severity of the step-mother and so on. Then, near the end, the queueing up to try on the shoe episode is delightfully choreographed.
All told this is a delightful romp led by three powerful female characters: domineering stepmother, sexy fairy godmother and powerful Cendrillon (Cinderella). The rest of the cast are all playing second fiddle to their tune. This is certainly Cinderella with a difference and a very worthwhile one at that.