Despite the popularity of the subject borrowed from the eponymous tale by Charles Perrault by the librettist Henri Cain, Cinderella has never been one of Jules Massenet’s most performed operas, like Manonfrom Wether, even of Thais. However, the work has never left the lyrical ball: this season even credits it with a late, but rather successful entry into the repertoire of the Paris Opera. By blowing on stage the carbonaceous fumes of the industrial revolution, Mariame Clément places this “fairy tale in four acts and six tableaux” in the socio-economic context of its composition, May 24, 1899, in Paris, Salle Favart. Each act is preceded by a short video of pantomime characters in black and white, like the boxes out of the cinema of George Méliès.
The director, who is making her second foray into the Parisian opera scene after Hansel and Gretel by Humperdinck (already a tale) staged in 2013 at the Palais Garnier, deliberately breaks with the clichés to give way to a fantasy realism, between Fairy Electricity and the Universal Exhibition of 1900, illustrated by ingenious sets by Julia Hansen. If the analogy between the ballroom of the prince’s palace and the glass roof of the Grand Palais is obvious, more metaphorical is the enormous metal machine which symbolizes the bourgeois world, between locomotive and blast furnaces, turbines, cylinders, gears, luminous dashboards, as complex in its form as in its premonitory function. Thus when she transforms Cinderella’s sisters into princesses on the chain, when she makes the Fairy appear in luminous flashes or when she serves as a refuge for Cinderella (alias Lucette) before her passage under the limelight. A ramp that has nothing to do with a launch and denies the heroine the conventions of triumphant appearance, even when love at first sight with the prince is indeed there.
Mariame Clément breaks with the clichés for a fantasy realism, between “Fée Electricité” and the Universal Exhibition 1900
It is indeed from the start of this junk ball, adorned with interchangeable young women in their identical pink dresses, that Cinderella appears, a godiche encased in a kitschissime dress with brilliants. Very quickly, she will get rid of it, as well as the blonde wig which scratches her, then the shoes that are too small, before ending up in her underwear. The Prince will see no malice in it – children who love each other are alone in the world – who hands him a loose white shirt and the red trainers he wore before reluctantly swapping them for ceremonial boots. The public rejoices to see the tale thus dressed. He will swallow without flinching the act of the dreamlike encounter of lovers in the basement of a factory filled with vats, Cinderella and the Prince seeking each other on the verge of death (he fell sick with love, she fled from the paternal home and was found lifeless in the snow).
Dazzling Supporting Roles
It’s no secret that French singing is in dazzling form and one would rightly expect the Bastille stage to do it justice. But the Paris Opera preferred to confine him to supporting roles. Make way for the excellent Charlotte Bonnet and Marion Lebègue, Cinderella’s half-sisters (respectively Noémie la meal and Dorothée the tomboy), as well as Pandolphe by Belgian baritone Lionel Lhôte, a fallen paterfamilias, as sensitive and spineless as he is compassionate. It’s hard to avoid frustration while listening to the agogic French of Tara Erraught’s Irish Cinderella or Anna Stéphany’s British Prince, especially since, on the vocal level, there is nothing that arouses absolute acclaim. The first has a very fine treble, but proves to be less at ease in the rest of the range, while the second struggles to master a sometimes intrusive vibrato. Despite her agility and luminous timbre, Kathleen Kim’s Fairy lacks slaughter.
Same observation for the ” nasty » Madame de la Haltière by Daniela Barcellona, who quietly perpetuates the tradition of stepmothers at the end of their careers. Shimmering and refined score, which handles the subtle borrowing from the lyrical tradition, from Lully to Wagner, without forgetting Mozart, Rossini or Mendelssohn, the music of Massenet calls for ductility, colorist art and precision. Carlo Rizzi’s sometimes abrupt direction lacks that sweetness and that extra soul that Massenet was able to give his characters so well.
Cinderellaby Jules Massenet. With Tara Erraught, Anna Stéphany, Daniela Barcellona, Kathleen Kim, Charlotte Bonnet, Marion Lebègue, Lionel Lhote, Philippe Rouillon, Mariame Clément (stage director), Julia Hansen (sets and costumes), Ulrik Gad (lights), Etienne Guiol ( video), Matthieu Guilhaumon (choreography), Orchestra and Chorus of the Paris Opera, Carlo Rizzi (music direction). Opera Bastille, Paris-12and. Until April 28. Operadeparis.fr
Broadcast on May 7 on France Musique