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Jules Massenet.

Jules Massenet. Cendrillon. DVD. Bertrand de Billy / Orchestra and Chorus of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. With Joyce DiDonato, Alice Coote, Ewa Podles, Jean-Philippe Lafont, Eglise Gutierrez. London: Virgin Classics, 2011, 2012. 60250995. $37.99.

Massenet is supposed to have claimed that he was much more comfortable writing about bad girls than good ones, and that might have something to do with the neglect that his fourteenth opera, based on the fairy tale by Charles Perrault known to us as Cinderella, has suffered. Cendrillon has been recorded only once, and has received a few stage productions in modern times, mostly for mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade. While the role is theoretically i soprano tine, the music lies mainly in the mid-range, and so is comfortable for mezzos with a good upper extension, in this case Joyce DiDonato.

This production was recorded in performance at London's Royal Opera House. although it was first presented at the Santa Fe Opera and is co-produced with the opera houses in Barcelona, Brussels, and Lille. Stage director Laurent Pelly brings his usual whimsical touch to the story, although not so heavy handed as is sometimes the case. Played on what is basically a unit set. painted with enlarged text from the Perrault tale, the production is set in no particular time or place. the costumes generally designed to identify the characters and their Place in society. The one exception is the fairy godmother. who is costumed as sort of Mae West-like vamp--perhaps Pelly is trying to give Massenet his bad girl after all? No harm is done by it. or by costuming the fairy helpers as clones of Cinderella herself.

The performance is very line and in at least one respect puts the existing CD recording out of the competition. Massenet wrote the role of Prince Charming as a trouser role for mezzo-soprano. In the CBS recording, and in at least one stage production with von Stade. the role was given to a tenor. Even so intelligent and sensitive a singer as Nicolai Gedda could not compensate for the havoc this creates in the Act 3 trio, probably the finest moments in the score, in which three female voices intertwine in a way not unlike the final scene of her Roserikavalier. There are no such problems here, with the prince sung beautifully by Alice Coote, whose performance is as elegant as Gedda's, and is in the correct octave. DiDonato also sings beautifully and looks exquisite even in her rags, but the role does not give her much of an opportutiny to show off vocally. Eglise Gutierrez negotiates the fairy's coloratura effortlessly, but. she seems stymied by the costume. Jean-Philippe Lafont is sadly past his vocal prime as the kindly father, but still brings a great deal of charm to the role, and contraito Ewa Podles has a held day as the overbearing stepmother, in her stunningly awful and hilarious costumes. Conductor Bertrand de Billy leads a lively and idiomatic performance.

Cendrillon will never rank among Massenet's best operas, but its wit and elegance, which this production captures, make i an enjoyable experience. It is highly recommended for all opera collections.


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Title Annotation:Jules Massenet: Cendrillon
Author:Holland, John
Article Type:Video recording review
Date:Feb 22, 2013
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