Cendrillon - Royal Opera House, 5 July 2011 (first night)
Anyone who wants to take the kids to the Royal Opera House this Xmas can choose between the tubercular charms of La Traviata and a five hour operatic X-Factor in German. Meanwhile, the exquisitely child-friendly Cendrillon is saddled with 10.30 finishes and £100+ tickets at a time when many families are on holiday anyway. It goes without saying there are still plenty of seats left. At least it gets a free Big Screen showing on 13 July.
Little girls will love Laurent Pelly's production with its wacky costumes, idiot dancing and horse-drawn carriage. Us bigger ones have seen it all before in other Pelly shows like La belle Hélène and La fille du régiment. Pelly's weapon is novelty and for me it's become blunted. The wordless processions of the prince's female pursuers worked well because the humour was character-based. Elsewhere, his tricks and twists couldn't quite stave off the opera's longueurs
The singing was generally excellent, though it's unfortunate Massenet assigned so much of it to Cendrillon's father. Jean-Philippe Lafont was unflaggingly watchable with nothing but Pelly's book-page walls around him, but oh how his once-booming bass baritone now bounces uncertainly from pitch to pitch.
In the title role, Joyce DiDonato had a bit of an off night, struggling to reach her top notes and intermittently squally elsewhere. But she infuses the downtrodden heroine with her own charm and generosity of spirit, and it was hard to feel anything but sympathy for her troubles.
The real heroines of the evening were Ewa Podles as the stepmother, magnificently ghastly in her vase-shaped frocks, and Alice Coote, unnervingly boyish as the lovelorn Prince Charming.
Eglise Gutiérrez drew the short straw costume-wise with her '80s Dusty Springfield look, but her breathy coloratura was more like operatic Marilyn Monroe - an odd Fairy Goldmother all round. As the two not-so-wicked stepsisters (Massenet's Cendrillon is nothing if not earnest), Madeleine Pierard and Kai Rüütel made the most of their underwritten parts with their delightfully silly characterisations.
Bertrand de Billy took the score every bit as seriously as Massenet intended, and though the result lacked a certain lightness, it also avoided sugary overkill.
production photos (above): Bill Cooper / Royal Opera House
curtain call photos (below): intermezzo.typepad.com