At two hours and 47 minutes running time, the French Cinderella will not be late to the ball.
By any measure, the Metropolitan Opera’s smart, tart production of “Cendrillon” is short. You can see it livestreamed at 11 a.m. this Saturday at Fort Lewis College.
The MET Live in HD will transmit its final performance of the season to the dark and comfy Vallecito Room. This particularly innovative production of Jules Massenet’s 1899 “Cendrillon” premiered in 2006 in our own backyard, the Santa Fe Opera. Since then, French director Laurent Pelly’s fresh take on an old tale has been mounted all over the world. The companies that originally collaborated to make it all happen include London’s Royal Opera House, Barcelona’s Gran Teatre del Liceu, Brussels’ Theatre Royal de La Monnaie and Opera de Lille.
Massenet’s interpretation is the familiar story of a poor working girl who meets her prince charming. But the century-old opera has a new look and a clock that keeps ticking. Thanks to smarty-pants director Pelly, the hearth-to-palace fiction broadly winks at a fantasy that has mesmerized Western women for centuries.
What makes it so different?
Having seen the Santa Fe production starring the same star that continues to endear audiences to Cinderella, I can say confidently, it’s Pelly’s satirical world view.
At every turn, the director sends up fairy tale stereotypes. Everything is exaggerated.
First, he imagines a literal storybook. Set Designer Barbara de Limburg delivers oversize pages as a backdrop filled with French text. Pages turn, doors open. Some props wear labels. Cendrillon’s carriage is not a Disney pumpkin. Here, it’s elegant, white and carries huge letters that spell the French word for carriage, carrosse. The horses (upright dancers who sport horse heads) wear white suits covered in more text. You know you’ve arrived at the palace because the gate spells: The doors of the PALACE.
Costumes are also satire. The evil stepsisters and stepmother wear gauche red dresses with huge, poufy bustles and narrow, constricting skirts. Choreographer Laura Scozzi enhances the fun by underscoring how idiotic clothing defines movement. Clattering, stilted movements of all the princess-wannabes tell another story and bring back the days of high heels and tight skirts. In Pelly’s world, nothing escapes the satirist’s eye.
The title role now belongs to Joyce DiDonato. She can sing with a purr or rocket her arias to the starry sky. It’s all ease and beauty. The role of Prince Charming will be sung by mezzo-soprano Alice Coote, who starts out as a sulky teenager and ends in a tuxedo to claim a princess. Kathleen Kim is the supersonic Fairy Godmother, a shade away from Mozart’s Queen of the Night. Another MET-Santa Fe favorite, Stephanie Blythe, will sing the role of the stepmother, Madame de la Haltiere, and get to display her comic chops in the process. The dry-witted father, Pandolfe, will be sung by Laurent Naouri. Poor guy, someone ought to write an opera about him. And Conductor Bertrand de Billy will shepherd the whole fantasy forward as he has all over the world.
The Met’s “Cendrillon” is contemporary comic opera at its best. If you missed the Santa Fe production, here’s a chance to see its dazzling offspring.
Judith Reynolds is an arts journalist and member of the American Theatre Critics Association.