United Kingdom Massenet, Cendrillon (Cinderella): Soloists, Chorus & Orchestra of Royal Northern College of Music / Martin André (conductor). RNCM Theatre, Manchester. 12.12.2017. (MC)
Cendrillon – Caroline Taylor
Noémie – Charlotte Richardson
Dorothée – Rhiain Taylor
Madame de la Haltière – Eleanor Watts
La Fée – Stephanie Poropat
Pandolfe – Matthew Nuttall
Le Prince Charmant – Michael Gibson
Le Roi – Daniel Hayes
Le Doyen de la Faculté – Andrew Masterson
Le Surintendant des Plaisirs – Liam McNally
Le Premier Ministre – Eugene Dillon-Hooper
Conductor – Martin André
Chorus Master – Kevin Thraves
Director – Olivia Fuchs
Set and Costume Designer – Yannis Thavoris
Lighting Designer – Matt Haskins
Each season it’s always a mouthwatering prospect wondering which operas RNCM will chose for the students to perform. Since I’ve been attending I have fond recollections of its productions with Kurt Weill’s Street Scene from 2015 lodged especially firmly in the memory. For its winter production RNCM has turned its attention to Massenet’s Cendrillon (Cinderella) a four-act opera first performed in 1899. Described as a fairy tale it’s performed with a French libretto by Henri Caïn based on Charles Perrault’s version of the Cinderella folk tale first published in 1697. Noticeable were one or two audience members reading detailed synopsis taken from opera books, but in truth I can’t imagine many of the large audience present who wouldn’t have been familiar with the basic story of Cinderella one of the best known and enduringly popular children’s fairy tales ever written. As is customary at RNCM there are two casts for each production and I was attending a performance by the Blue cast.
Swiftly flowing and straightforward the production was a strong one bringing the story to life which came as no surprise given the wide experience of director Olivia Fuchs. Audible audience gasps greeted Yannis Thavoris’ traditional style set, a magical landscape and a visual delight, both simple in concept yet cleverly designed and beautifully lit too. Mainly constructed around three moveable partitions the central mirrored panel was put to ingenious use, producing fascinating optical effects and increasing the sense of movement. The wall panels were adjusted to create different rooms predominantly an embossed purple wallpapered drawing-room and a blue wallpapered bedchamber. Adding to the visual contribution were the rich and vividly colourful traditional costumes especially the handsome period wigs worn by all the main cast except Cendrillon. There were several amusing props; conspicuously, the illuminated wigs of Fairy Godmother and her Fairies, the nurses on roller-skates, the Fairies holding wide bands around Cendrillon wearing sun glasses giving the impression of her being seated in a luxury limo and Cendrillon and Le Prince Charmant in hospital beds each connected to drug infusion bags attached to mobile stands.
Clearly relishing her title role Caroline Taylor as Lucette, known as Cendrillon, excelled both in voice and acting prowess moving with grace. Looking elegant in her gorgeous evening dress and suitably demure in her adopted personality Taylor made a most credible downtrodden heroine who has found love with a handsome Prince. Reasonably bright with a light creamy tone the soprano doesn’t have a particularly large voice, but it’s a most attractive one. The coloratura requirements and high notes were satisfyingly achieved by Taylor displaying real promise. Tenor Michael Gibson in the part of Le Prince Charmant (Prince Charming) – with long brown wig wearing an attractive light grey frock coat – seemed to grow in confidence as the opera progressed. Despite some minor unsteadiness the tenor revealed an attractive tone to his voice. At the conclusion of Act II his duet with Cendrillon was movingly done as they sing to each other from different sides of the mirrored wall.
Eleanor Watts gave an exuberant comedy performance as the wicked stepmother Madame de la Haltière who was not averse to knocking back a handful of pills and swigging drink. With an agreeable tone the mezzo-soprano has a strong voice that projected well through the hall and in Act III the audience showed its approval for Watts with a burst of applause. Disagreeable stepsisters, Noémie and Dorothée, played by Charlotte Richardson and Rhiain Taylor looked delightful and sounded well too. I look forward to them appearing in more substantial future roles. Cendrillon’s father Pandolfe sung by baritone Matthew Nuttall sings well. Noticeably in his first act aria, bemoaning marrying Madame de la Haltière his selfish countess wife, his delivery is moderately smooth and steady. In the role of La Fée (Fairy Godmother) soprano Stephanie Poropat with her illuminated white wig, surrounded by her attendant fairies, sings her Act I aria with assurance and noticeable clarity. Projecting her voice well, Poropat’s coloratura display and effective leaps to her top register were especially enjoyable.
Acquitting itself with merit the chorus was a credit to chorus master Kevin Thraves. Specially mention is owed to conductor Martin André for such steadfast direction adopting sensible tempi and dynamics. In fine form the student orchestra sounded excellent with little in the way of individual errant episodes to worry about. Noticeable was the exceptional playing of the principal clarinet producing a gorgeous tone and the flute sounded splendid too. Grumbles, none really except the surtitles were uncomfortably high for those seated in the lower half rows.
Royally entertained by Olivia Fuchs’ Cendrillon the delighted Manchester audience supplied long and enthusiastic applause.
For an earlier review of the alternate cast click here.