Just in time for Valentine's Day, the IU Opera Theater offers a very pleasant, richly detailed and charmingly staged version of the Cinderella story. It's Jules Massenet's "Cendrillon" and the opera brings back the fairy god mother, the magical coach and the glass slippers that Disney and Rogers and Hammerstein have accustomed us to and that Rossini so callously left out.
C. David Higgins design and costumes strike just the right note. They're right around lush and flirting with over the top. The sets range from elaborate rooms to a mystical forest with palm frond fans shifting in texture and design in the hands of the chorus. He's clearly had fun with the children's chorus and his fairies, but it's the step sisters' ball gowns that go up and over. One has an avian motif on the skirt and a pair of love birds for a hat, the other has a spouting whale on the skirt and a full rigged sailing ship for topper.
Guest stage director Chuck Hudson was able to work with Higgins during the design process and his staging is clearly an organic part of the overall design. His blocking is clear and direct in many of the dramatic scenes and has a fittingly whimsical complexity in the more involved mystical parts of "Cendrillon."
In Massenet's version of the Cinderella story, the father is very much present. As sung nicely by Saturday night's Carl DuPont, he's a much harassed and overwhelmed man who would much rather be back in the country with his daughter than in court with his new wife and her daughters. He's actually most comfortable hanging out with the servants. He does have a moment of overwhelming anger when he wishes his new family would go to the devil and the jovial Massenet quotes the dramatic ending of Mozart's "Don Giovanni" for his wish.
Charis Peden was properly imperious as the imperiously clueless step mother. Marie Masters and Laura Boone were appropriately oafish as her oafish daughters. There's a great scene in which the step mother has the daughters proudly unroll thirty or forty feet of a family tree that includes quite a catalog of various worthies and even a few appropriately royal mistresses.
Saturday's very effecting and effective Cinderella was Carolina Castells, a soprano with plenty of technique and power for the sympathetic and the moving parts of the role. Composer Massenet originally chose a female voice for his Prince Charming and although there are versions which substitute a tenor, the IU production offered mezzo Laura Wilde. She sang well and was gracefully manly enough. I only occasionally wished for the contrast that a male voice would have supplied in the duets.
The vocal palm of the evening in this opera has to go to the Fairy Godmother. It's a role that offers the same delightful high note work that Mozart's Queen of the Night enjoys and there is lots more of it. Her rapid high notes pinged off the back wall. The IU production literally flies the Fairy Godmother and Megan Radder handled both the aerial balance and the vocal challenges with charming aplomb.
Ronald Zollman was the conductor of the music, the drama and the festivities. The IU Opera Theatre's production of Jules Massenet's Cinderella, "Cendrillon," continues on Friday and Saturday the 13th and 14th.
Listen to an an interview with guest stage director, Chuck Hudson.