Whether it’s Rogers & Hammerstein, Disney, the Brothers Grimm or Charles Perrault, the story of Cinderella, her fairy godmother, the glass slippers and happily ever after is, even in these modern times, always a delight. Personally, I grew up adoring the 1985 Faerie Tale Theater version starring a young Matthew Broderick as Prince Charming. This weekend, the Lyric Opera of Chicago’s production of Jules Massanet’s Cendrillon swiftly established itself as the latest memorable retelling of the mousy girl who becomes a princess.
It’s the first time Massanet’s opera in four acts, which premiered in Paris in 1899, has been mounted at the Lyric, and they’ve selected a doozie of a version to feature. Laurent Pelly both directs this whimsical tale and created the costumes, ensembles that look like something out of a haute-couture Dr. Seuss book (in the absolute best way possible). Pelly premiered this production in Santa Fe several years ago, and it’s since gone on to play around the world. It’s our luck that Chicago is the latest stop on its worldwide charm offensive, though with just five performances remaining (including tomorrow, December 5), don’t sleep on your chance to see it.
The plot remains as reliable as ever, if adjusted slightly for full dramatic effect: we don’t meet Lucette (as she’s known here) until a few numbers in. First, her father Pandolfe (Derek Welton) laments his poor choice of second spouse in the scheming, materialistic Madame de la Haltière (Elizabeth Bishop); and of course we meet the shrew herself and her dim-witted daughters, Noémie (Emily Pogorelc) and Dorothée (Kayleigh Decker) in all their goofy glory. Once they’re off to the ball, Lucette is left to pine away for the life she only sees from afar, full of glamor and romance. Enter the Fairy Godmother (Marie-Eve Munger), decked out to give Glinda the Good Witch a run for her money, with a wand at the ready and dreams to make come true. Some theatrical sleight-of-hand turns our Cendrillon, covered in ash and dressed in rags, into the ravishing future princess ready to take the ball by storm.
Australian soprano Siobhan Stagg makes her U.S. debut as Lucette, and she shines both vocally and visually, donning a gorgeous white ballgown that stands out in a breathtaking sea of red. Everyone at the ball is dressed to the nines in various shades (and shapes!) of crimson, and the choice is both visually stunning and impressively dramatic; it’s the kind of lavish flare we go to the opera for, after all. The ball itself will easily rank among the most memorable scenes of the Lyric’s season, as funny and charming as it is beautifully orchestrated and performed. The fanciful touches reach every scene of this marathon show (a hefty 2 hours and 45 minutes with one intermission), from the carriage that carries Cendrillon off to the ball to the gilded palace gates to the enchanted forest where she and Prince Charming (Alice Coote) meet again after she’d run off at the stroke of midnight.
Of all the live theater one can choose from in Chicago, opera may feel like the most out of reach for an everyday audience. Between the foreign languages (Cendrillon is performed in French), the hefty ticket prices (up to $279 a pop) and the white gloves and tuxedos (these days usually reserved for a season’s opening night), “approachable” may not be the word that comes to mind. Which is understandable. But it’s also, at least in the case of Cendrillon, entirely inaccurate. The universally beloved fairy tale comes to life to dazzling results, and anyone with a set of eyes in their head and a heart in their chest will find that the Lyric’s version rivals any you may already hold dear.
See Cendrillon in select performances through January 20. Ticket prices start at $49 for upper balcony seats. For dates, tickets and more information, visit the Lyric online here.
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