Massenet’s operatic fairytale is a thing of perfection, his ravishing melodies supported by shimmering solos and feather-light textures. But director Fiona Shaw has thrown a blanket of psychological insights and extraneous symbolism over his delicate construction.
Though the music is never less than beautiful, the production is frantic and full of business; servants run back and forth with shopping, food and ball dresses, until the eye doesn’t know where to focus.
Only in scenes featuring the Fairy Godmother – sung with effortless purity by soprano Caroline Wettergreen, and the ecstatic love duets between the neglected Cendrillon (Alix le Saux) and her depressed Prince, the ardent mezzo-soprano Eleonore Pancrazi, does magic emerge from the muddle.
Le Saux and Pancrazi convince us with their fresh, characterful singing that they are two lonely teenagers who have found their soulmate. Their mystical consummation comes in Act III, when the Fairy Godmother transports them to an enchanted forest – Jon Bausor’s revolving mirrored boxes hiding trees and spirits – and the two women’s voices vibrate with erotic promise.
There are tender exchanges between Cendrillon and her spineless, henpecked father Pandolphe, sympathetically characterised by William Dazeley. But composer and librettist don’t give the wicked stepmother (Agnes Zwierko) and her catty daughters Noemie and Dorothee, (Kezia Bienek and Eduarda Melo) much to get their teeth into.
Zwierko swaggers on in hideous leisurewear but the comedy relies not on her singing, which is low-key, but her striptease down to a corset and Spanx. It’s too broad and pantomime-dame to hit the mark, and the same goes for her daughters, whose only crime is being ugly dressers, not Ugly Sisters.
With a light touch, young conductor Duncan Ward coaxes sensitive, soloistic playing from Glyndebourne Touring Orchestra. If you shut your eyes and savour the interplay between voice and flute, solo violin or celeste – well there’s the magic.