What is the difference between real life and dreams, especially for the unsure young person?
This poignant question is at the heart of Massenet’s 1899 opera “Cendrillon”, which opened Friday at the Metropolitan Opera in English translation under the title “Cendrillon” – a holiday offer reduced to 95 minutes and intended for families.
In Laurent Pelly’s daringly stylized production of this adaptation of Perrault’s fairy tale, when we meet Cinderella (the moving mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard), she is restless and desperate. Dressed in a tattered dress and loose sweater, she is treated like a humble handmaid by her imperious stepmother and devious stepsisters.
Left alone to think about her fate, Cinderella sings a melancholy tune, music that evokes an old folk song, and allows herself a moment to dream. There must be someone who can save her; somewhere a loving soul mate is waiting. LÃ©onard, who excelled at the Met as Debussy’s MÃ©lisande and other great roles, does it thoroughly.
Cinderella’s rescuer is unfortunately not her father, Pandolfe (bass baritone Laurent Naouri). As we learn, Pandolfe was a widower who lived happily in the country with his beloved daughter when he madly married the energetic Madame de la HaltiÃ¨re, who already had two children. Soon she proved to be bossy and ambitious. Pandolfe proves unable to stand up to him and protect his daughter.
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And who could stand up to the HaltiÃ¨re of this production, mezzo-soprano StÃ©phanie Blythe? With her powerful, deep voice and gripping presence, Blythe hilariously fades.
In the animated opening scene, she orders her fearful servants and obsequious milliners to create fancy dresses for her daughters to attend a royal ball; the king of the kingdom (sturdy bass-baritone Michael Sumuel, in his Met debut) has decreed that the recalcitrant prince will finally choose a bride. Massenet’s music is teeming with rustling flourishes and pomp, hosted by the conductor Emmanuel Villaume. Left behind, poor Cinderella curls up on the floor and falls asleep.
But her desire to attend the ball was heard by the Fairy Godmother (lively coloratura soprano Jessica Pratt), who arrives with spiritual assistants – a dancing choir of women strangely dressed as Cinderella, who wakes up draped in cream. silvery. and is taken to the palace in a horse-drawn carriage. Is all this just a dream?
What emerges from Massenet’s account, elegantly rendered in this performance, is that Prince Charming (Emily D’Angelo, a mezzo with a rich voice) is also a dreamer. We first see him miserable in his red pajamas, fearing the ball and his responsibilities.
During a deceptively courteous and harshly comedic choral scene, a parade of eligible women in outrageous outfits – Pelly also designed the costumes – appear before the brooding prince, who can barely respond. Then, in a vision, Cinderella arrives. As their silent gazes transform into lyrical exchanges, beautifully sung by Leonard and D’Angelo, these young people truly seem to be the answers to each other’s dreams.
And so the familiar story unfolds: the glass slipper that falls from Cinderella’s foot as she runs away at midnight; the prince’s relentless search to find his owner; and the happy ending when their dream of love comes true.
The production is a delight, with lines from Perrault’s fairy tale written all over Barbara de Limburg’s set and Laura Scozzi’s choreography a skillful blend of elegant movement and silliness. The cast (including Jacqueline Echols and Maya Lahyani as half-sisters) could hardly be better. It’s a fitting companion for the Met’s other family holiday dish: Mozart’s “Magic Flute,” which opened last week.
Until January 3 at the Metropolitan Opera in Manhattan; metopera.org.