“Cendrillon” combines fairy-tale magic with classical grandeur
Good opera doesn’t always have to be about spurned lovers, untimely death and bitter betrayal.
Sure, all of those elements have their place in the tragic operatic canon, but the genre can also convey plot elements and themes that offer audiences magic, wonder and hope. Jules Massenet’s “Cendrillon” is a perfect example, an opera in four acts that the composer aptly described as “a fairy tale.”
Of course, anyone who’s grown up with the story of Cinderella knows the gist of this particular fairy tale. Massenet’s opera, with a libretto by Henri Caïn, debuted in Paris in 1899 and takes its plot cues from Charles Perrault’s 17th-century version of the tale.
Nevertheless, anyone who grew up with the 1950 Disney film version or any subsequent takes on the rags-to-riches story of a heroine seeking love, kindness and redemption will find plenty to recognize in this opera, to be presented by the College of Music’s Eklund Opera Program on March 17 and 19 at Macky Auditorium.
“Massenet’s opera sticks pretty close to the traditional story that we all know from Disney,” says Eklund Opera Program Director Leigh Holman, who will direct the upcoming production. “There’s the Fairy Godmother, the glass slipper, the carriage. I think people will enjoy all that, because it’s fantastical and familiar.”
What may come as a revelation for some audience members is the scope of the production and the lavishness of the score. Massenet puts the story of Cinderella in a lush, grandiose musical frame—one that melds French, German and Italian operatic cues. Associate Professor of Opera and Music Director Nicholas Carthy will work with student performers to bring this dynamic to life.
“The music is just really, really beautiful,” Holman says. “There are a lot of quotes and inspiration that Massenet pulled from the work of Richard Wagner. Of course, Wagner was famous for his really huge, glorious orchestral moments—that will be an interesting through-line for some opera buffs.”
For audience members—young and old—who may not be as familiar with the classical opera catalog, “Cendrillon” could serve as a perfect introduction. With a story made familiar in folk stories, films and cartoons over centuries, this production combines sensibilities in a dazzling way.
“It’s going to be a beautiful production,” Holman says, noting that as the performers deliver the lines in French, supertitles will translate the text into English. “This will be the first time we’ve done this opera. We’ll have a brand-new set, brand-new costumes. Visually, it’s going to be really exciting for young folks.”
“This opera is a good opportunity for our students and for audiences of all backgrounds. There are fairies, magic—all that grand, fun stuff that makes people love the opera.”
“Cendrillon” will be performed March 17 and 19 by the Eklund Opera Program in Macky Auditorium.
Photo caption: Taylor Raven and Max Hosmer from the 2015 production of “Cinderella”