Jules Massenet’s Cendrillon is being performed at the Met for the first time in this stylish production by Laurent Pelly that captures the wittiness of this fairy-tale opera. With the Orchestra in fine form Bertrand de Billy leads a strong cast in an effervescent account, bringing out the score’s varied influences, ranging from folk-music in melancholic passages to the Baroque for goings-on at the royal court, as well as touches of Mendelssohn and such Massenet contemporaries as Wagner and Richard Strauss.
The unusual pairing of two mezzo-sopranos – Joyce DiDonato in the title role and Alice Coote as her Prince Charming – is gorgeous, especially in love duets. Both are experienced in this production and marvelous comedic actors and give effective portrayals of lonely characters who fall in love at first sight, suffer when they are separated, and rejoice when ultimately reunited in the happy ending.
Much of the humor comes from Cendrillon’s stepfamily. Her loving father, Pandolfe, has entered into a disastrous second marriage to the socially-connected but overbearing Madame de la Haltière, who henpecks him mercilessly and attends to her own daughters while reducing Cendrillon to a servant. Stephanie Blythe portrays the wicked stepmother as a force of nature, overpowering her subservient husband both physically and verbally, and Ying Fang and Maya Lahyani are hilarious as Cendrillon’s empty-headed stepsisters. Laurent Naouri credibly voices Pandolfe’s grievances at his mistreatment at the hands (literally) of Madame Haltière and is tender in his comforting of Cendrillon. Kathleen Kim is terrific as the Fairy Godmother, dashing off coloratura passages with aplomb, and the supporting cast of servants, courtiers and spirits are excellent.
In Barbara de Limburg’s set, the text of Charles Perrault’s fairytale is posted on walls that move to expand or contract, with many doors to accommodate entrances and exits, and the carriage that bears Cendrillon to the ball is fashioned from the letters of “Carosse”. De Limburg also cleverly substitutes the chimneys of the city for trees in the forest where both Cendrillon and the prince flee from their homes. The principal visual focus, however, is on Pelly’s over-the-top costumes and Laura Scozzi’s choreography. The black-white-and red costumes of the king and his bewigged entourage set a stylish tone, and are topped by the procession of red-clad women seeking the prince’s hand, one outrageous costume outdoing the next. And Scozzi consistently provides humor, such as with the courtiers’ prancing gait and the circle dance that precedes Cendrillon’s entrance at the ball. It has taken more than a century for Cendrillon to reach the Met’s stage and its charm is a welcome addition.