First issued on CD
on CBS Masterworks CD79323 (itself from
the 1979 LP issue, 79323), this set
positively sparkles with joy. Its fairy-tale
story, known surely to all (Cinderella)
is perfectly suited to the masterly
craft of Jules Massenet, whose operas
must surely soon receive the full attention
they deserve. A concert performance
of Thaïs at the Barbican
by ENO recently acted as a timely reminder
of that work’s stature (review).
But that is only one of a total of 25
from this composer’s pen – and the level
of inspiration in Cendrillon
is hardly less. The magic/fairytale
element clearly suited Massenet’s wide
and sensitive orchestrational palette,
while the vivacious story of Princes,
magic and balls makes for pure delight.
The cast here is really
rather starry, boasting the likes of
von Stade, Gedda and Bastin. Ruth Welting
was a name new to me, yet her account
of the Fairy’s mesmerising coloratura
roulades is consistently ravishing (her
roles at the Metropolitan, New York
included Zerbinetta Ariadne auf Naxos,
Königin der Nacht Zauberflöte
and Gilda Rigoletto).
After an introduction
that fizzes along, the chorus shows
their prowess (‘Chez Madame de la Haltière’).
Yet it is the focussed voice of Jules
Bastin’s Pandolfe that really impresses.
In tandem with Rudel’s exemplary pacing,
every word is clear. Bastin’s aria (Scene
2, ‘Du côte de la barbe’) is excellent,
with the singer placing his high notes
perfectly. Again fast and clear, Bastin’s
projection of the comedic ‘Félicitez-moi
donc’ and his ensuing contributions
(track 7) are perfectly done. Wherever
he sings, Bastin is focussed and his
pitching is uniformly true.
Cinderella has to wait
until Scene 5 (track 8) before she enters
our consciousness in the rather sighing
line ‘Ah! Que mes soeurs sont heureuse!’.
Von Stade is magnificent in providing
just the right bleak tone appropriate
for her character’s malaise. How plaintive
is the simple cry of ‘Ah!’, how meaningful
the phrase ‘Résigne-toi, Cendrille’.
Her joy at the end of the act is similarly
brought to life (the repetitions of
‘Je suis Reine’, for example). Or try
von Stade in Act 3 Scene 1, her tuning
faultless, her scales sparking away,
her pitching clean. During the course
of this performance it is easy to sympathise
with Cinderella’s distress, as well
as to smile with her.
Nicolai Gedda’s Prince
Charming matches von Stade’s Cinders.
His Act 2 Scene 2 shows off his truly
lovely round tone to perfection and
it is worth noting that he is thoroughly
convincing here, despite the cheesiness
of some of the lines he has to sing
(‘Coeur sans amour, printemps sans roses’
…). It is at moments like this that
I wondered the omission of a libretto
might not be so bad after all …. When
Cinderella and her Prince are in duet
(Act 2 Scene 4), it is all one could
have hoped for. Gedda provides an outpouring
of passion against von Stade’s lovely,
simple and tender innocence. Their voices
are suited to a tee. Again, Gedda’s
ardent singing warms the heart towards
the end of Act 3.
As mentioned above,
Ruth Welting is superb. She emits an
aura of the approachably supernatural
with her vocal twists and turns, and
her thoroughly delightful trills. The
other star of this set is the Ambrosian
Opera Chorus. Massenet puts his chorus
to good use, and the Ambrosian responds
with disciplined yet touching singing,
the Fairies floating along nicely (CD2
The sparkling repartee
of Noémie (Teresa Cahill) and
Dorothée (Elizabeth Bainbridge)
in Act 3 Scene 2 exemplifies these singers’
grasp of Massenet’s world while Jane
Berbié’s strong mezzo cuts an
imposing Madame de la Haltière.
Julius Rudel’s command
is never once in doubt and it is good
that his orchestra gets the chance to
shine in the Dances of Act 2 (CD 1,
Tracks 15-19), but the many felicities
of scoring throughout the opera mean
that the Philharmonia is a source of
only provides the sketchiest of synopses
and a track list (no singers tacked
on to the latter, either). Mercifully,
the libretto is available on the net
(although without translation) at http://www.karadar.com/Librettos/massenet_cendrillon.html.
Although it is easy to lambast companies
like Hänssler that skimp on booklets
by providing web-links to downloadable
notes, at least they provide something.
It seems such a shame to provide indifferent
packaging for a performance that is,
after all, something rather special.
As far as the actual product goes, this
is a Recording of the Month if ever
there was one.