Roughly 2,000-year-old tale a perfect introduction to opera
By Becky Sprecher
On Saturday, Jan. 22, USC Beaufort’s Center for the Arts at 801 Carteret Street, will screen the Metropolitan Opera’s production of Cinderella by Jules Massenet. Curtain is at 12:55 p.m. The opera was broadcast live on Jan. 1, but since the Center was closed that day, we will see the encore version.
Along with a holiday production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute, Cinderella is part of the Met’s effort to reach out to families and introduce the art form to the younger generation.
This is an ideal opportunity to spend some time with your children or grandchildren and teach them about opera, about the different classically trained voices (opera singers never use microphones in performance), and how a story is told through singing. To assist you, the Met has created a series of teaching aids such as activity sheets, an illustrated synopsis, and an Educator’s Guide for older children. (Visit metopera.org, click on the 2021-22 Season/Cinderella, then scroll down and click on Holiday Presentation.)
The teaching aids are designed for children with varying degrees of exposure to music, and all are presented in English and Spanish. There’s even a pattern to make a crown for the girls to “wear to the ball,” with video instruction. The opera will be sung in English, with Met Titles also in English. The run length is a family friendly 90-minutes.
The story has been around forever, with Greeks living in Egypt in the first century BCE telling of a girl who attracted a king with her shapely sandal. Chinese storytellers recorded a version in the year 850 called Ye Xian, where the main character loses a shoe on her way home from a royal ball.
Charles Perrault’s Cendrillon was published in 1697 and introduced most of the iconic elements in Cinderella that we know today. The French composer Nicolas Isouard wrote an opera called Cendrillon in 1820, and Gioachino Rossini composed La Cenerentola in 1817. (The latter is still part of the standard opera repertory.)
The version we’ll be seeing was composed by Jules Massenet and premiered at the Opera-Comique in Paris in 1899. More recent productions are the Disney animated version in 1950, a Rodgers and Hammerstein Broadway musical starring Julie Andrews in 1957, and the adaptation of that same musical starring Brandy as Cinderella and Whitney Houston as the fairy godmother in 1997. Disney also did a live adaptation in 2015 starring Lily James.
Director Laurent Pelly’s production is enchanting, the set resembling the pages of a large story book where the images in the book come to life. While Pelly generally adheres to the fin de siècle-look for the costumes, he doesn’t hesitate to go over the top when necessary. The dresses worn by the eligible young ladies at the ball where they are presented to the prince are outrageous, and to great comic effect. The prince couldn’t be less interested.
Do not make the mistake of thinking that Cinderella is just for youngsters. If you love the richness of the mezzo soprano voice, this opera is for you. The stunning mezzo Isabel Leonard (who dazzled in the Met’s production of Marnie a few years ago) sings the role of the princess. Mezzo Stephanie Blythe as the wicked stepmother with her dark, withering voice makes you hate the character every bit as much as when you saw the Disney animated version way back when.
And finally, mezzo Emily D’Angelo stars as the prince. Now this is a “pants” or “trouser” role, where a mezzo soprano is cast to sing the part of a young man. Opera is full of these roles, and you might want to have a conversation with the kids about how opera is all about the voice, and an older, more mature voice would not sound believable for the part of a young man in his late teens or early 20s. Many mezzo sopranos have enjoyed great careers singing exclusively trouser roles.
Topping it off is Massenet’s exquisite music. A composer who was interested in writing about transformation, Cinderella is the perfect vehicle through which to display the fairy-tale wonder of both his music and this thematic material. While there are plenty of ruffles and flourishes and charming comedy sprinkled throughout, it is very much a serious opera by a composer who knew exactly what his audience wanted to hear.
The children will love Cinderella — and so will you.
For a full synopsis and production details, visit metopera.org, click Menu/Season/In Cinemas. Sung in English. Run length: 90 minutes. To book tickets visit uscbcenterforthearts.com, click Met, Movies and More. Tickets: $22. OLLI members: $20.
WANT TO GO?
What: The Metropolitan Opera’s HD broadcast of Cinderella by Jules Massenet.
When: 12:55 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 22.
Where: USC Beaufort’s Center for the Arts, 801 Carteret Street.
Tickets: Visit uscbcenterforthearts.com, click Met, Movies and More. Tickets are $22, $20 for OLLI members.
More info: For a full synopsis and production details, visit metopera.org, click Menu/Season/In Cinemas. Sung in English.