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As her Prince, Emma Selway had a rather brighter, clearer almost boyish high mezzo-soprano voice. In ordinary circumstances I would have preferred a richer, darker voice playing this role, but Selway provided an attractive foil to Grodnikaite, the two voices blending but contrasting nicely.
Massenet and his librettist, Henri Cain, allow each character to introduce themselves with a long monologue; in fact Cendrillon gets two, the second after her return to the ball. When we first meet the Prince he is depressed and convinced he will never find love. Once he does meet Cendrillon their love duet is heart-breakingly short as she has to dash off at midnight.
We next meet the Prince in Act 3 when both he and Cendrillon go to see la Fee, the Fairy Godmother, at her home in the enchanted forest. Here la Fee prevents the lovers from seeing each other until the very end of the scene, so that still the Prince is lovelorn and heart-broken.
By the final scene, some time has elapsed and the Prince still has not found Cendrillon so when we meet him he is still lovelorn and desperate. When he finally finds Cendrillon again, their meeting is alarmingly short before Massenet finishes the opera.
All this means that Selway got the chance to do very little, apart from be lovelorn and rather droopy, something which she did beautifully. When it came to the love music, where Massenet seems to have been channelling Debussy and Wagner, Selway sang with a lovely clear tone, but I wanted more refulgence and richness to the voice; this is music which aches to be sung with a golden bloom on the voice. Still, Selway sang with beauty and intelligence and was convincingly enamoured of Cendrillon.
This wasn't hard, as Grodnikaite responded to Massenet's love scenes with gorgeous tone and convincing demeanour. She sang without a score, quite an impressive achievement for a concert performance without prompt; but this certainly aided her communication with both fellow artists and the audience.
Copyright © 3 June 2008
Robert Hugill, London UK