Theater review: Cendrillon
CENDRILLON (JULES MASSENET) – OPERA COMPANY OF MIDDLEBURY
Once upon a time there was a fairy tale about a Lowly Nobody Girl who swept away the earthen Ashes of the Substance consumed by glittering Fires. But she had a Big Inner Life, sometimes a.k.a. Big Spirit, and dreamt of a Life Fulfilled by Love she imagined embodied in the glittering society of royals — among whom there was a Highlife Somebody Boy, who also had a Big Inner Life and sensed the Lack of Substance in glittering high society, and who longed for a Life Fulfilled by Love. Of course there was a force keeping them apart — a Very Bad Female, in this case an Evil Stepmother who is consumed by all that glitters and has two equally empty-headed daughters — and of course to bring the Girl and the Boy together there had to be a countervailing supernatural force, in this case a Wondrous Female a.k.a. Fairy Godmother, who sneaks the Lowly Nobody Girl (LNG) into the glittering ball at which the Highlife Somebody Boy (HSB) has been told by his Father, the King, a.k.a. the Upholder of the Patriarchy, that he must choose a Princess for a Wife, and that’s that.
LA FEE (THE Fairy Godmother played by Cree Carrico) and her Young Artists as the Spirits watch over Cendrillon. Photo by Max Kraus
The HSB sees through the glitter and is unwowed by the emptiness of the wooing Princesses, but when the LNG arrives he finally recognizes she is The One. But just as they are getting hot and catching fire the LNG has to leave per her FG’s instructions, and in the kerfuffle the LNG loses a Thing That Comes Between the Lowliest Part of the Body (a.k.a. the foot) and The Dusty Earth, that is, a shoe, in this case one that glitters, wouldn’t you know. In the end the Boy and the Girl are brought together by That Shoe, and the High Glitter Boy and the Low Ash Girl are united in the Substantial Fires of the Spirit — in other words, Cinderella.
Once upon a time there was a Very Very Talented composer in France, who saw this would make a Very Lovely Opera, and verily his music did the trick nicely. It captured the Glitter and Fire and Spirit as well as the Ashes and Earth and Humility. And because he was a Very Very Good Composer of Successful Operas he wrote a Gorgeous Big Romantic Soaring Show-Stopping Substantial Love Duet for the Boy and the Girl smack in the middle of Act Two – that would be Jules Massenet (1842-1912). And because this opera was in French it was called “Cendrillon” (1899).
HEATHER JONES AS Dorothée and Abigail Paschke as Noémie (stepsisters) get ready to meet Prince Charming at the royal ball. Photo by Max Kraus
Once upon a time (now) and in a land far far away (here, a.k.a. Middlebury) there was, and is, a plucky outfit called the Opera Company of Middlebury which took on the Daunting Endeavor of mounting this fairy-tale French Romantic opera. Doug Anderson, a.k.a. the Upholder of the Theatrical Tradition, breathed the Spirit of Fun into the opera, and Michael Sakir, the Upholder of the Musical Values, breathed Life into the score, through the glittering execution of an able army of fiery musicians.
On stage there was an even larger army of fired-up singer-actors, ranging from a seven-strong Ensemble and nine Young Artists to the nine principals. Luxury-cast as the King (as seems fit) was the authoritative Erik Kroncke. Abigail Paschke and Heather Jones entertainingly embodied the two earthy daughters. As their harpy mother, mezzo-soprano Tara Curtis wielded her substantial voice with menace and seemed to channel Leona Helmsley via Joan Collins. As her husband, baritone Andy Papas created the heroine’s comic lovable shlub-daddy, even as he kept a singing line.
TARA CURTIS AS Mme de la Haltière (stepmother) primps for the ball. Photo by Max Kraus
Cree Carrico (who sang Stella in last season’s Streetcar) fully enjoyed this slinky Godmother, dispensing magic and other-worldliness with her altitudinous trills and mercurial coloratura. As the pensive Prince Charming, John Riesen scored his finest impressions in his sensitive soft singing. The lovely soprano Lindsay Ohse captured the Big Inner Life of the Ash-Girl with her rich, full colors and the uncomplicated sincerity of her character. In their Big Duet Ohse and Riesen gave the grateful audience the Big Operatic Gift of thrilling all-out climaxes. It was the stuff of fairy tales.
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