Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Cinderella for Adults

Cendrillon, Opéra Comique in Paris, March 11 2011

Director ..... Benjamin Lazar
Conductor ..... Marc Minkowski

Cendrillon ..... Blandine Staskiewicz 
Le Prince charmant ..... Michèle Losier
La Fée ..... Église Gutiérrez
Mme de La Haltière ..... Ewa Podleś
Pandolfe ..... Laurent Alvaro
Noémie ..... Aurélia Legay
Dorothée ..... Salomé Haller
Le Roi ..... Laurent Herbaut
Le Doyen de la Faculté ..... Vincent de Rooster
Le Surintendant des plaisirs ..... Julien Neyer

Orchestra and chorus of Musiciens du Louvre - Grenoble

There are three points that I'd like to make before jumping on "how good Ewa Podles was".

The first one is related to the issue I blogged about a few weeks ago and it has to do with a somewhat schizophrenic relation between the French public today and the 19th century French operatic repertoire. In that post I concluded that the new productions should be shaped as to modernize those operas, to make them relevant to 2011 in their essence, and so they could bridge a gap between two sides of the aisle of the French cultural dichotomy.

While the Flanders Opera recently did an exemplary job with Hérodiade in that respect, Opéra Comique in Paris took an easier road and produced Massenet's Cendrillon that looks like a revival of a show premiered in 1951, or 1971, or...  Of course Cendrillon/Cinderella is timeless and carries no  heavily religious bulk, but that's not an excuse for shabbiness of the show.

Secondly,  the plot for this opera is a fairy tale which makes it a good tool to attract children to get their early fix of opera. Unfortunately all the shows at the Opéra Comique (except for one) were scheduled to begin at 8 p.m. (and end before Midnight!); that pretty much excluded children from the the targeted audience, which is a shame.
So, being in a crowd of some fairly aged creepy people who giggled all the way and clapped joyously when the wealthy Prince eventually found his beloved Cinderella (surprise!) --much to the misery of Mme de la Haltière and her two daughters-- made me feel... well, creepy.

Finally, the score is weakish, far too sugary for adults (?!), and Mr. Minkowski (together with the French press) rushing to stick this opera a label "le chef d'oeuvre de la musique française" was --in my opinion-- (a) very audacious, and (b) not really a compliment to the genuine  "chefs d'oeuvre de la musique française".

Now, with these comments spelled out, I feel comfortable to adding my bit of praise to the singers and the orchestra. I am not sure it takes that amount of talent such as Musiciens du Louvre and Marc Minkowski to do this score justice, but I believe the intentions of the artistic direction of Opéra Comique were good. In any case Musiciens du Louvre were brilliant.
Concerning the singers, you should know that the auditorium of Opéra Comique (a.k.a. salle Favart) is rather small which definitely helps the singers who ordinarily struggle to make themselves audible when singing in larger venues. For example, last year I saw Église Gutiérrez struggle as Lucia at the Deutsche Oper Berlin, while here she was excellent - projecting brilliantly and nailing all the top notes easily even if her voice is a bit heavy for all the necessary coloratura. Ewa Podles has both the remarkable presence, and a rich voice that is still astonishingly well preserved. To that add some kind of  humility of a performer that she displays on the stage and you definitely have to admire her more.
A brilliant, lesser known mezzo, Michèle Losier, was my best surprise in this show. A beautifully timbred rich voice, impeccably projected, with a perfect French pronunciation: three in one -- it is rare! Definitely a  mezzo to follow in the years to come. Brava!  Blandine Staskiewicz was very good too.

Finally a paragraph about the show itself. The sets and costumes are, like I said, difficult to relate to 2011 and the show looks as if it was created in 1951 or so. Benjamin Lazar is a young director who is apparently in good grace of the artistic direction of Opéra Comique [he presents there his two shows this season.]  I obviously expected more from him -- maybe an attempt to show that even this opera can bring more to the crowd than a dumb entertainment (including the ballets that apparently amused the crowd a lot.)

This naive and sweet opera (show) is obviously not my cup of tea, but I should say that the success it met with the crowd was big. As for me, I guess I'll retain the name of  Michèle Losier.

Here are the production pics:

Guess who are two girls on the left, a lady on the right and the poor little thing in the center!
Ewa Podles, alias Mme de la Haltière

The Fairy with her two auxiliaries suspended on the wires wearing some luminescent stuff

Cinderella needs a dress...

Here is Cendrillon in her luminous dress looking like a Christmas tree

Ewa Podles, Michèle Losier, and Marc Minkowski
Photos ©Elisabeth Carecchio

Here is a short video made during the rehearsal process:

and here's another one with excerpts from the show:


  1. I must say I liked the stage design and acting and not at all the music and libretto that irritated me a lot!
    There were a certain number of young spectators the day I saw this programme. It seems that a whole class of pupils were in the topmost balcony (Paradis).

  2. Hi Joel! I am glad for you. But seriously what acting did you see there to like?

    When I saw the show it started at 20:00 and ended around 23:15. I scanned the crowd and spotted only ONE little girl who at first was asking her mom questions, but since the old freaks around were irritated and protested she stopped and by the end of the show she was sleeping on her mom's shoulder...

    How would you take a 8-12 years old kid to theater on a working day knowing that you wouldn't be back home for sleep before Midnight?!

  3. I admit there was less "acting" compared to some productions directed by Pelly, Py or others, but a lot more compared to anything by Deflo for instance. I did not feel that anything was missing in this aspect of the production. I should stress that I felt all the visuals of the productions were more than just "honest" if we accept their choice to refer to the past (more to 1899 than 1951 I would say).

  4. Hi Joël. What I meant was that the this particular production looks as if it was produced in 1951, or 1971,... (even then they had the ropes to pull the fairies up and down, and they had lots of glitter to give the fairies the unearthly but kitschy appearance)
    But once you buy into that and you still feel like dreaming of Cindarella being saved by a charming Prince, then I guess you might enjoy this show ;)

    Anyways, good for those who liked it; as for me, I tried it once and I can say I'm done with this opera.

  5. Can you say more about Blandine Staskiewicz? As you may or may not have seen, I was not all wowed by Judith Gauthier - in fact, disconcerted. I see London gets DiDonato (and Alice Coote as the prince).

  6. Why do you spell it "Cindarella"?
    I know its a godawful question, but the fact that you keep making the typo suggests you actually spell it that way, and I can't help but be completely puzzled!!

  7. Hi Anon. It's a joke (admittedly lame) ;)
    I'll put it in the "right" way in the text but will keep double "ll" in the title tho. That (lame) joke will always remind me of this opera in the future...

    NPW-Paris, sorry for such a belated reply. Blandine is a very reliable singer. Her voice does not match the beauty of Joyce DiDonato but is beautiful anyway. Her French is obviously impeccable, and she acts according to the nuances of the text. If Michèle Losier wasn't there, Blandien would have been my favorite singer that night. Cheers