Composer/Libretto: Pauline Viardot
Director: Sophie Gilpin
Conductor: Chris Pell
David Ward of the Northern Opera Group has a talent for digging out neglected minor pieces which are well worth reviving, and Pauline Viardot’s Cendrillon certainly falls into this category – and Sophie Gilpin’s production, filmed at two Leeds sites, does it justice.
Viardot, also a famed mezzo-soprano, staged Cendrillon (Cinderella) in her Paris salon in 1904. It is very much a chamber opera aimed at salon society. It requires merely piano accompaniment, runs for about an hour and is high on charm, low on passion. Unfailingly melodic, it lacks boisterous comedy, though there are hints of the buffo in the presentation of the Baron, and resists the temptation to make Cinderella too downtrodden or her step-sisters too unpleasant. They are snobs, expect Cinderella to be at their beck and call, but in fact she and they rather like each other.
The story runs pretty much on traditional lines, with the occasional bizarre addition. The Fairy Godmother appears at the Prince’s grand ball and obliges with a song, traditionally an interpolated favourite, in this case Adele’s Laughing Song from Die Fledermaus. The Baron has a past career as a grocer and he and the Prince’s Chamberlain (the Dandini figure) spend a pleasant five minutes before the shoe fitting discussing the quality of his gingerbread and the girl they both left behind them.
Gilpin makes excellent use of the settings, grounding proceedings in reality from the start when Cinderella is cleaning the splendid old grate at Calverley Old Hall, the perfect setting for the Baron’s house. Fantasy makes its appearance in a delightful story-book sequence creating the coach and horses for the ride to the palace – which proves to be the always impressive Temple Newsam. Brief, neatly judged outside scenes around Calverley Old Hall make it all more believable.
Claire Wild’s Cinderella is equally believable, her fresh-sounding soprano backed by her acting ability as she finishes her chores (for the moment) and relaxes with a romantic tale of a prince in love, punctuating her reading with a down-to-earth commentary. Nicholas Watts’ lyric tenor is ideally suited to the Prince, though he is somewhat under-used. A capable cast is supported by an ingeniously screened community chorus; the images of not always appropriate feet for the shoe-fitting scene are wittily presented.
With Rachel M. Harris’ functional translation, good subtitles and the cast’s admirable diction everything is crystal-clear, Jenny Martins provides an assured piano accompaniment and Chris Pelly’s conducting keeps the disparate ensemble together. Nobody viewing it will feel that Northern Opera has uncovered a lost masterpiece, but Viardot’s Cinderella is a pleasingly different operatic take on the traditional story.
Available to watch HERE