David mel­lor opera of the week

The Mail on Sunday - Event - - MUSIC -

Glyn­de­bourne, East Sus­sex Un­til Sat, tour­ing Nov 7-Dec 1

This Cen­drillon is a real cu­rate’s egg. The singing is good in al­most ev­ery part; Fiona Shaw’s er­ratic, dog­matic, right-on di­rec­tion is good in very few parts. Massenet’s opera is rarely heard, and there are valid rea­sons for its ne­glect. He couldn’t de­cide whether it was a fairy tale or some­thing with pre­ten­sions to be a sec­ond Tris­tan And Isolde. The fairy­tale bits are en­joy­able, with some highly ac­com­plished mu­sic, though no killer tunes. But mid­way through it’s all change: two for­mi­da­ble duets be­tween Prince Charm­ing and Cin­derella take on a Wag­ner-like in­ten­sity (Massenet was a huge ad­mirer of Wag­ner), frankly be­yond Massenet’s ca­pa­bil­i­ties to bring off.

The ba­sic story is, of course, very familiar; the opera not at all. So a di­rec­tor con­tent to lay the drama out with­out ir­ri­tat­ing con­cepts would have been good. But that’s not Fiona Shaw’s way. What we get is heavy-handed sym­bol­ism: a wretched but­ter­fly turns up ev­ery­where; there are an­noy­ing ad­di­tional char­ac­ters, like a child Cin­derella dart­ing around, ru­in­ing some of Massenet’s bet­ter or­ches­tral in­ter­ludes; and worst of all, Prince Charm­ing and Cin­derella ul­ti­mately emerg­ing as a les­bian cou­ple.

I sup­pose Massenet asked for this, mak­ing both of them mez­zos. But a Prince Charm­ing (who is any­thing but) turn­ing into a wo­man half­way through is a bridge too far for me.

A shame, be­cause most of the singing re­ally is rather good. The Fairy is bril­liantly sung by Caro­line Wet­ter­green, an ex­cel­lent col­oratura so­prano of whom much more will be heard. Alix Le Saux is an id­iomatic Cen­drillon, though Eléonore Pan­crazi, as the not-so-charm­ing Prince, makes lit­tle im­pact (Shaw’s fault, of course).

The vet­eran Wil­liam Daze­ley is ex­cel­lent as Cin­derella’s su­per-wuss dad, but the wicked step­mother and ugly sis­ters fail to dis­play any par­tic­u­lar comic gifts. In the pit, Dun­can Ward di­rects with real flair.

So if the tour comes any­where near you, this is well worth see­ing. But whether Mid­dle Bri­tain will take to Ms Shaw’s out­look on life is very de­bat­able.

This Cen­drillon comes to the main fes­ti­val next sum­mer, with ma­jor cast changes. And, one hopes, with some changes from Ms Shaw as well.

One of Cen­drillon’s step­sis­ters, Noémie (Ed­uarda Melo), has a makeover in prepa­ra­tion for the ball

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