The renowned opera house Glyndebourne is currently touring Cendrillon (Cinderella), a French opera that saw its premiere performance in 1899, Paris. Having wanted to go to an opera for some time, and due to the fact I’m learning, slowly but surely, to speak French, I was quick to take up the opportunity to review Cendrillon (but to say I wasn’t relieved to see that the performance featured English subtitles would be a lie!). If I had to summarise in a few words what an opera is like, I’d say ‘fancy musical’. Whilst, simply speaking, this is true (let’s be honest here), my praise for Cendrillon cannot adequately be put into words; it was utterly breath taking, terribly moving and fantastically enchanting. I was totally enamoured within the first few minutes, and the love affair between myself and this opera, though unfortunately one-sided, will continue for a very long time.
Before the performance began, the audience were told that Alix Le Saux, who plays Lucette/Cendrillon, was sadly ill and so unable to perform; instead the role would be played by Jennifer Witton, who normally plays Third Spirit; therefore, Third Spirit would be played by Rachel Taylor who normally plays a Servant; and so, Pamela Wilcock would be playing that Servant. Each time the audience were informed of another replacement role we collectively laughed, as it seemed it may well go on forever. However, despite these changes, one would have never known that someone other than intended was playing these roles. Each and every character, from Lucette/Cendrillon herself to one of the many ladies in waiting, was exquisitely played.
I expected grandeur, and I was not disappointed. From the stage design to the costume, the orchestra to the singing itself, everything was impeccable. It perfectly combined comedy and tragedy to give a silly yet sombre performance. This combination, in turn, made the whole performance incredibly dreamlike; strange and unexpected aspects merged into one, making this quality all the more apparent. The stepmother donned a purple tracksuit and the stepsisters took numerous selfies whilst getting ready, and drunkenly ate takeout after the ball. The king wore a crown-shaped paper party hat and the fairy godmother smoked cigarettes. Alongside the wonderful, varying voices of each character, these comic elements made for an overly pomp and indulgent show; it was delicious!
All the songs were amazing, but the Prince’s duet with Lucette was at once beautiful but torturing to watch being performed. Both had wandered into an enchanted wood; Lucette’s intention was to die under a magical oak after being told lies by her step family, in which they said the Prince had no interest in the unknown girl at the ball (who was Lucette – a spell from the fairy godmother made her unrecognisable to the stepmother and stepsisters). In the wood, the Prince sang of his heartbreak, and desire to see the unknown beauty from the ball. Only able to hear his song, Lucette calls on her fairy godmother, begging her to release the Prince from his suffering and for her own happiness. The set during this scene was beautiful with soft green lighting; mirrored, revolving pieces moved around the stage and Lucette and the Prince weaved in and out of them whilst singing about one another. When eventually granted their wish, the pair joyfully sang when they could finally see one another again, before falling asleep together.
Based on Charles Perrault’s Cendrillon, the performance combined many classic elements of the Cinderella story whilst situating some aspects of it in the modern day. I was totally swept away by the magic of it all, from the funny shoe-centred games at the ball to the beautiful dancing of the spirits. I’ll certainly be on the lookout for another opera to see – I really do recommend giving it a try.