Cinderella is a Handy Woman

Cendrillon (Cinderella) by Jules Massenet

Municipal Theater in Ulm, Germany

Premiere on December 19th, 2019

Pictures: Martin Kaufhold

BY OXANA ARKAEVA

Read in Spanish on ProÒpera

The fairy tale opera by Jules Massenet is composed to a French libretto by Henri Caïn and is based on Charles Perrault´s tale of Cendrillon from 1698. Routed among others in the Greek story by Strabo from 7 BC about a slave girl Rhodopis, who marries the king of Egypt, Massenet´s “Cendrillon,” is also a story of a brave, young woman, who proudly and gracefully defies the challenges of life, and who fights for her right to love and independence. First performed with great success on May 24th, 1899, at the Opéra-Comique in Paris, the opera enjoys a winning reception throughout the centuries and is a welcomed artistic challenge for any stage director, conductor, and opera house.

I-Chiao Shi as Cendrillion

The production from Ulm can undoubtedly be called a “young” one. Labeling his dramaturgical thread by an inscription “I IS different” (“Ich IST eine andere”), the stage director Christian von Götz succeeded in establishing a youngish, playful spirit, reflecting the feelings and perceptions of the generation from 18 to 25  about politics, society, sexuality, and one’s own identity. The stage design (Petra Mollérus) is simple and not overloaded and allows the total concentration on the action. Supported by diverse, colorful costumes by Lukas Noll, the staging is entertaining, has a lot of speed, numerous comical but not plane moments, and represents a colorful diversity of a multicultural crowd of characters and performers.

A handy woman Cendrillion

Ulm´s Cinderella is not a pink-dressed princess doll, but a tomboyish, young woman in dungarees, who is not afraid of dirty work and the one, who has to stand her own woman. She does not have an easy life and is continuously humiliated by her evil stepmother and stepsisters. Cendrillon´s weak father can only secretly console his crying daughter. The real help comes in the form of a Fairy, who transforms her life forever. However, Cendrillon is not the only one who struggles.

Helping the insecure Prince (Luke Sinclair) to get out of the box.

The young Prince, whom she met at the ball in the palace, a vulnerable, young man, with a female mannerism, who is constantly hiding in a wooden box labeled “fragile.” Cendrillon perceives his fears and shares with him the wooden box. She gives him much needed strength, and, Prince offers Cendrillon a shoulder to lean on. In the end, they manage to overcome their fragility and with the help of the other fabled creatures, like the sweet unicorn (the absolute hit of the evening), find their happiness. A true love doesn´t know gender, religion, wealth and social status.

The hit of the evening a lovely unicorn with a happy Cendrillion

The Philharmonic Orchestra of the City of Ulm exhibited Massenet’s´ score infused with melodic singing, beautiful ensembles, and broad, romantic, almost Wagner-like orchestral passages. Conductor, Michael Weiger (watch a promo-video on YouTube), a connoisseur of French melodic formula and its delicate dynamic nuances, led the orchestra with steadily balanced dynamics and singable tempis. The singer´s ensemble convinced through excellent preparation and acting skills.

The challenging family: Christianne Bélanger, Dae-Hee Shin, Maria Rosendofky and Jung Youn Kim

Dae-Hee Shin, as a father, presented a robust baritone and good French. Christianne Bélanger (mother) sung with beautiful mezzo-soprano, and her big solo scene in act three was for me a musical highlight of the evening.

Singing while swinging: Christianne Bélanger as evil stepmother

I-Chiao Shi, as Cendrillon, has a big mezzo voice with warmth in the middle and some sharpness at the top. She mastered this demanding part, equipped with a lot of high notes and coloratura, with much vigor, and advanced to be an audience´s favorite. The Fairy sung by soprano Maryna Zubko was a light-footed, blonde vision with superb high notes. The Prince, sung by Luke Sinclair, presented a loveable tenor with a beautiful timbre, and evil sisters of Maria Rosendofky and Jung Youn Kim, both have beautiful soprano voices.

Maryna Zubko as Marleen Dietrich-like blond Fairy

Like most of the fairy tales, this one also had a happy end. With Cendrillon and Price rising into the starry sky of their own fable vision, it, however, remains to be seen whether this happiness will not pop up to be just a chimera, another fairy tale.

A happy end. I-Chiao Shi and ensemble

Cast:

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