BWW Review: French Creampuff CENDRILLON Finally Reaches Met with DiDonato
The Met's new CENDRILLON is a Cinderella of a production, finally allowing Massenet's take on the classic tale of the girl from the cinders who finds her Prince Charming to reach the Met's stage 119 years after its premiere at the Opera-Comique in Paris.
It found its perfect chef de cuisine in Laurent Pelly who staged it broadly and smartly enough to cover up most of its flaws and make it appealing to a 21st century audience, starring the ever-popular mezzo Joyce DiDonato, who debuted the production a dozen years ago in Santa Fe (though somewhat different in execution). And, with conductor Bertrand de Billy at the podium, the Met orchestra whipped the production's crème fraiche into high peaks.
Why did it take so long to get here? The production's already been to Covent Garden, Barcelona's Liceu, the Theatre de la Monnaie in Brussels and the Opera de Lille (France). DiDonato spent some of that time with another version of the story, Rossini's bel canto LA CENERENTOLA, with which she had great success and, frankly, that would probably have been enough for most people. Yet, as a bookend to a season that has already had the composer's undervalued THAIS, it seems that its time has come. Or has it?
In this production, the answer is yes. Pelly, who also did the fabulous costumes, and his partners in crime help cover up some of the shortcomings of the score: This is no match for the composer's MANON or WERTHER (or THAIS, for that matter). Duane Schuler did the lighting, complete with fireflies, and Laura Scozzi's choreography is particularly priceless, though kudos go to Barbara de Limburg's scenic design, which uses typefaces in the most imaginative ways possible (including the use of the French word for 'carriage' to form Cendrillon's ride to the ball).
But with a couple of smashing set pieces--the ball at the palace was a blast--and some great work from the ensemble, the production was fun to watch. Though it falls somewhat into the doldrums in its second half (the four acts are divided by just one intermission, in the middle), it picks up again as the Prince tries the glass slipper on the foot of every Marie, Therese and Lucette (Cendrillon's real name) in town. Only the wicked stepmother--hilariously portrayed and tartly sung by mezzo Stephanie Blythe--was sent packing without a try. (Blythe somehow managed to make the role's more outre aspects seem perfectly logical, including a total shift in character at the tale's end.)
The cast was a little disappointing, heard at the performance on April 17. I would have liked to hear DiDonato do this when the production was newer. Now, her voice was at its best in the most mellow moments but sounded a bit grainy when she pushed very hard. (Maybe too many SEMIRAMIDEs in London last fall did her in.) She's nonetheless a graceful presence who knows how to command a stage while seeming down to earth and still managed to look glamorous as she transformed to the princess-to-be.
As her prince (a pants role), another mezzo, Alice Coote, didn't warm up until halfway through the performance, which by most standards is unacceptable, and didn't really blend well with DiDonato. Baritone Laurent Naouri, as Cendrillon's father, Pandolfe, certainly had hold of the French style and is an excellent farceur--he's lived to regret marrying for money--but he sounded a bit dry.
On the other hand, soprano Katherine Kim (well-remembered for her Olympia in LES CONTES D'HOFFMANN) tripped the light fantastic very nicely as the Fairy Godmother. And, Cendrillon's stepsisters, Noemie and Dorothee, offered prime roles for soprano Ying Fang, in particular, and mezzo Maya Lahyani, who somehow managed not to fade in the background with Blythe as their mother. (A miracle, that.)
In all, CENDRILLON proved a delightful evening of an imaginative, sometimes over the top, production.
Performances of CENDRILLON will take place on April 20, 24 and 28 matinee; May 3, 7 and 11 with the April 28 matinee performance to be transmitted worldwide as part of the Met's Live in HD series, now seen in more than 2,000 movie theaters in 73 countries.
Curtain times vary: complete schedule here. Running time: 2 hours and 47 minutes, with one intermission.
Tickets begin at $25; for prices, more information, or to place an order, please call (212) 362-6000 or visit www.metopera.org. Special rates for groups of 10 or more are available by calling (212) 341-5410 or visiting www.metopera.org/groups.
Same-day $25 rush tickets for all performances of CENDRILLON are available on a first-come, first-served basis on the Met's Web site. Tickets will go on sale for performances Monday-Friday at noon, matinees four hours before curtain, and Saturday evenings at 2pm. For more information on rush tickets, click here.