Massenet's 1899 opera, Cendrillon, once had a strong connection with Chicago. It was initially given here in 1911 by the first of the city's several resident companies which preceded the current Lyric Opera of Chicago. The cast featured Maggie Teyte as the Cinderella figure and Mary Garden in the travestie role of Prince Charming. A huge painting of Teyte scurrying from the ball at the fateful midnight hour adorns a venerable downtown Chicago building dedicated to fine arts studios and theatres.
That was a hundred years ago. Cendrillon had not been heard here again until Lyric Opera of Chicago produced it late in 2018 in a production originating in Santa Fe and since seen at Covent Garden, Metropolitan Opera and several European houses. Directed by Laurent Pelly, who also designed the amusingly outrageous costumes, his conception is long on charm, only occasionally descending into mere cuteness.
Massenet's score also strives for charm in a superficial manner (as is often typical of him). His instrumental music is (again, as usual with him) ravishing and impeccably orchestrated. He has, in short, given us everything but memorable tunes for the singers.
But those singers, as heard on Dec. 8th, were also impeccable with not a weak link among them. Australian soprano Siobhan Stagg was, as expected for a Cinderella, lovely in appearance, touching in characterization, and sang with equally lovely tone throughout. Her father, fellow Australian Derek Welton, matched her in sympathetic portrayal and fine singing. Alice Coote was also faultless in displaying her rich mezzo as the Prince.
Elizabeth Bishop was the stepmother, a role shrewdly devised by composer and librettist to present her as hilarious, which Bishop certainly was, to offset her wickedness. However, her narrative describing the oncoming parade of royal hopefuls angling to fit into the glass slipper, somehow lacked authority.
As conceived by Pelly, the Fairy Godmother is more spunky than ethereal. French-Canadian coloratura soprano Marie-Eve Munger was delightfully energetic in deportment but her singing was ethereal indeed, with beautiful portamenti and exquisitely floated top notes.
That parade of princesses, the one well-known part of the score, all costumed in what looked like a wild amalgam of Erte and Christian Lacroix, elicited that rarest of operatic by-products: authentic belly laughs. This was preferable to the court ballet sequence which began with intentionally absurd movement but became merely silly.
Andrew Davis, conducting the fine Lyric orchestra and Michael Black s equally fine chorus, fitted perfectly into the production's scheme of lively antics.
A couple of other Canadian connections: tenor Josh Lovell, soon to join the Vienna State Opera, was a member of the Prince's retinue, and Francesco Milioto was scheduled to lead one performance in his Lyric conducting debut.--Richard Covello