Manchester Theatre Awards

> Independent informed reviews by the region’s most experienced critics

Cendrillon (Cinderella)

Henri Cain and Jules Massenet
Royal Northern College of Music
06 December 2017 to 16 December 2017

I’ve always enjoyed the student operas at RNCM, and this production of Massenet’s masterful fairy tale, Cendrillon, was one of the best. It was touching, funny and light with a dark shade that would have made Disney turn in his cryogenically frozen grave. The story is well known. Cinderella (Fiona Finsbury) is a maid of all work servicing the family of her father, Pandolfe (John Ieuan Jones), her evil stepmother, Madame de la Haltiere (Rebecca Berry) and two ugly sisters Noemie and Dorothee (Eliza Boom and Lucy Vallis). The household is readying itself for the ball, which is to be attended by the King (Timothy Bagley) and the long suffering melancholic, Prince Charming (Michael Gibson). Overworked, Cinderella falls asleep, dreaming of attending the dance. Her wish is granted by La Fee (Daniella Sicari) and her Sprites (Hannah Boxall, Lara Harvey, Lixin Liu, Ingvild Schultze-Florey, Leonie Maxwell and Lucy Temby). Awakened and dressed by the fairies, she is instructed that her glass slippers will protect her, but that she must be home by midnight. Cinderella shall go to the ball!

Cinderella does, of course, win her Prince, but the dark shade that Disney, in his 1950 film version, leaves out is her attempted suicide. Her recovery is aided by La Fee and her Sprites who, in a breathtaking piece of staging, glide on to the stage dressed as nuns, wearing roller skates and illuminated coifs. The scene is rent in two by a mirrored wall, and we witness the Prince bedridden by heartbreak and left only with a glass slipper to remind him of the love he lost at midnight and cannot find. On the other side, Cinderella hovers between life and death. They duet, separated by the mirror, as La Fee resolves to bring them together. It was one of the most moving scenes I have ever seen. It left me, and I’ll wager most of the audience, in tears.

The creative team of Olivia Fuchs (director), Yannis Thavoris (set and costume designer), Matt Haskins (lighting designer) and Bethan Rhys William (choreographer) brought a touch and a tone so perfect to an overpowering performance. A special mention must go to Kevin Thraves, who has been mentioned in dispatches before. His marshalling of the blistering and beautiful chorus set-pieces was outstanding - you deserve a case of beer (gratuitous movie reference there).

It is difficult to single out individual performances in such a team effort, but Fiona Finsbury in the lead role and Michael Gibson, a last minute super sub, as her Prince, were brilliant together. The exemplary performance of the night must go to Daniella Sicari as La Fee. Her voice wowed an appreciative audience who cheered long and hard after the curtain fell. To everyone at RNCM, I can only say bravo and thank you.

Reviewer: Robert Hamilton


Comment by Robert Beale

Like Robert, I have seen only cast no. 1 in this production (and heartily agree with his commendations of Fiona Finsbury and Daniella Sicari), but it did include Kamil Bień as Le Prince Charmant on the night I went, and he's one to watch.

This Cendrillon has a particularly strong professional production team, and it shows. It's one of the most attractively spectacular operas the college has mounted for years. Director Olivia Fuchs and designer Yannis Thavoris stage the story in Versailles (the Hall of Mirrors in particular) in the era of Louis XIV, and the set makes a wall of two-way mirrors its abiding theme, providing not only for impressive visual effects but also an easy and symbolic transition from the home of Cendrillon and her nasty mother and sisters to the royal palace and back again. Costumes are lavish, and the technical credits include no less than 12 people responsible, one way or another, for wigs!

Madame de le Haltière is here a vainglorious would-be society lady, while her husband, Pandolfe, put-upon and longing for peace without her, has a considerable comedy role. The third and fourth Acts (after the ball) show Cendrillon and Pandolfe planning to leave the other three for their former home, then Cendrillon wanting to end her own life, followed by a scene in which the Prince and Cendrillon are together and yet unable to see each other and she begins a slow convalescence – before the conventional ending with the lost slipper used to identify the true belle of the ball.

It sounds pedestrian in terms like these, but Fuchs and Thavoris have mixed some surreally up-to-date imagery with the 17th-century settings (including a Cadillac-style vehicle for Cinders to get to the ball – first presented as a model car and then evoked, on the fall of the curtain, by a silhouette and light show). Instead of Acts three and four offering forests and enchanted shrubbery, we are in a sanatorium, with nuns on roller skates and Cendrillon and the Prince each attached to a bed-side drip. La Fée (the Fairy Godmother, as we usually know her), who has previously appeared suitable magical, with lights in her hair and a similar get-up for her friendly Sprites, now dons a white coat and administers healing touches. Crazy? Well, it works, and since we have already seen evidence of the teenage angst of both Cendrillon (a feisty, somewhat wilful and independent girl) and the Prince (first seen moping in his room as he carves “L’Inconnue” – the girl of his dreams – on his bedhead, and later indulging in a few tantrums of his own), the idea of clinical intervention does not seem too far-fetched.

The music is in the capable hands of Martin André and RNCM chorus master Kevin Thraves. The RNCM always fields a big chorus for opera when it can, and with Massenet’s turn-of-the-century orchestral writing there are powerful sounds coming from stage and pit. At first these verged towards the loud and raucous, and choral ensemble was a little messy before things bedded in. Later, we heard excellently delicate playing – particularly in the accompaniment to the duet which leads to the sanatorium scene (originally a Forest Murmurs in its own right), and by the finale they were firing on all cylinders and splendidly so.