Just over a year before Johann Strauss
II died he had decided to write a ballet. A Viennese newspaper
had offered a prize of 4,000 crowns for its libretto. Its winner
provided a modern version of the traditional Cinderella story.
Strauss started work on the new score in the summer of 1898
yet died before it was complete. Bayer was invited to prepare
a full score from Strauss’s surviving material.
In the final production, the synopsis
has been adapted to bring in Strauss himself, dressed in a gold
suit that reminds one of the statue in Vienna’s Stadtpark. The
Cinderella storyline is cleverly modified to provide for the
‘immortal’ Strauss in gilt suit descending on a cloud to direct
the events that take place in a traditional Cinderella story.
Here he replaces the fairy godmother.
In Act I we find ourselves in a fashion
designer’s studio with numerous seamstresses aiming to please
a lanky gorgon (male dancer in drag) who is dissatisfied with
the paltry work of Cinderella. It is Strauss who rescues Cinderella
from employment as an underrated fashion designer and transports
her to the Ball. At the Ball the Prince presents Cinderella
with a pair of crystal slippers, a departure from the normal
routine. At the end of the Ball he carries her aloft in his
cloud: she then drops one of the crystal slippers from the ascending
cloud to the Prince below, in his memory. This variation from
the traditional story is effective and works admirably.
Bayer’s score is a very acceptable
and starts with an excellent Prelude that opens into an equally
effective Prologue. Throughout, there is a good transitional
flow of mood even if most of the music is in 3/4
or 6/8 waltz time. The central ball-scene
(Act II) provides an excuse for a string of virtuosic solo dance
routines. This nicely sets off the comical portrayal of the
ugly sisters who exhaust their partners.
The orchestra under Halász’s direction
is strong, well balanced and nicely recorded under what may
have been adverse live conditions outside the studio.
Following its 1901 premiere, the work
was revived in 1919, 1927 and 1979. Just as Strauss had intended
the story to be set in their own modern times, for this production
by Zanella, a decision was taken to set the story in vogue with
1999 fashion. Christian Lacroix, a bridal wear costumier, was
approached to give the production a bold face. His use of garish
colour and eccentric costume design features give the stage
much visual impact. His settings are deliberately muted, seemingly
to throw forward and exaggerate the effect of the costumes.
It works and retains one’s focus on the characters and on the
Raymond J Walker