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A Special Magic

Massenet's 'Cendrillon',
enjoyed by ROBERT HUGILL


Massenet wrote some three dozen operas of a very varied nature, but not all of them partake of the highly perfumed eroticism that we associate with him, thanks to the popularity of Manon and lesser known operas such as Thais and Esclarmonde. Cendrillon is a case in point; the sentiment is direct and appealing rather than highly perfurmed. Cendrillon was written in 1896 but it was not performed until 1899. It was given a lavish production at the Opera Comique, with a cast which included Julia Guiraudon in the title role; Guiraudon sang Micaela and Mimi at the Opera Comique. The opera ran for some fifty performances in its first year. Up until World War I, the opera received regular stagings both sides of the Atlantic; in 1911 a production in Chicago starred Maggie Teyte (as Cendrillon) and Mary Garden (as le Prince Charmant); significantly, for the casting of the two lead roles, both these singers were sopranos who excelled at such roles as Melisande.

The only significant recording of the work stars Frederica von Stade as Cendrillon and Nicolai Gedda as a tenor Prince. This is entirely wrong; Massenet treats his leading couple as a pair of lost children, each is an alter ego to the other. Though the roles are technically a soprano (Cendrillon) and a mezzo-soprano (le Prince Charmant), the Prince is written for that tricky voice type the Falcon Soprano so that the voice hovers between high mezzo-soprano and low soprano. That Cendrillon has an almost identical tessitura indicates that we are dealing with two almost equal voices, rather than a girl soprano and a travesty boy low mezzo-soprano.

In an ideal world Cendrillon should be sung by a soprano, but at their concert performance at London's Queen Elizabeth Hall on Sunday 1 June 2008, the Chelsea Opera Group opted to have the young Lithuanian mezzo-soprano Liora Grodnikaite sing Cendrillon, with another mezzo-soprano, Emma Selway, singing le Prince Charmant. There can be few complaints, as Grodnikaite made an enchanting Cendrillon having both the voice and the girlish physique for the role. Apart from a couple of notes, Grodnikaite showed no discomfort at the role's high tessitura and sang with consistent beauty and an appealing tenderness (Massenet's Cinderella is notoriously droopy for most of the opera). Grodnikaite has an attractive smoky tone to her voice which lent the character an interesting depth.

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Copyright © 3 June 2008 Robert Hugill, London UK


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