Cinderella and her Prince Charmant finally arrive at the Met next month played by a pair of mezzos pushing 50; “Trove Thursday” offers a more vernal take on Massenet’s magical Cendrillon (in English) featuring instead two sopranos: Margaret Price—not yet 30—and Anne Pashley, then just 35.
When Cendrillon premiered in Paris in 1899 its heroine was sung by a soprano, her prince by a falcon also exotically dubbed a soprano de sentiment. A noteworthy duo-soprano revival occurred not long after in Chicago starring Maggie Teyte and Mary Garden. The opera never completely disappeared but over the past 50 years it’s been performed more and more. During that time the title role though has become most identified first with Frederica von Stade and then for the past decade with Joyce DiDonato.
Perhaps I’ve been atypical in that my three live Lucettes have been sopranos—Faith Esham and Cassandre Berthon at New York City Opera and most recently Julia Bullock at Juilliard.
I’ve looked around and noticed that sopranos Sheri Greenawald, Rebecca Evans and Anne-Catherine Gillet has also sat wistfully by the fire as will young Australian Siobhan Stagg when the much-traveled Laurent Pelly production moves next season to Chicago.
But I couldn’t find another recent example of a soprano Prince other than Pashley who is perhaps less than ideally forthright here. Ann Murray and Delia Wallis sang it often opposite von Stade and Alice Coote has been bewitched by DiDonato in London and Barcelona prior to their upcoming meet-cute at the Met and will then pursue Stagg in Chicago.
By sheer coincidence this “Trove Thursday” arrives on the same day the Bayerische Staatsoper under Kirill Petrenko brings Der Rosenkavalier to Carnegie Hall. Delight in the blend of high female voices surely motivated both Strauss and Massenet to conceive Octavian and the Prince Charmant as trouser roles. Happily nearly everyone has resisted the temptation to cast a man in Rosenkavalier, but Cendrillon hasn’t always been so lucky.
The otherwise very fine CBS recording starring von Stade and Ruth Welting is fatally marred by the catastrophic decision to cast Nicolai Gedda as the Prince. City Opera too erred in presenting the appealing Fréderic Antoun the last time it did the opera in 2007.
Although Massenet’s work has many lovely moments, the rapturous garden scene features one of my favorite love duets. My first exposure to it was this excerpt from a live concert featuring von Stade, Marilyn Horne and Reri Grist as La Fée. That evening by the New Jersey Symphony also featured not coincidentally excerpts from Rosenkavalier and Horne’s only stab at bits of the Marschallin. This performance still thrills me but one can hear the two mezzo lovers strain at their ecstatic climaxes.
So I’m perhaps a bit pessimistic then about the Met’s upcoming mezzo-ful French fairy tale.
There will be more of the great Margaret Price (who is glorious here) on “Trove Thursday” in future months and another Massenet opera featuring a prominent trouser-role may be turning up as well.
Massenet: Cendrillon (in English)
Camden Theatre, London
9 August 1970
Margaret Price – Lucette
Jennifer Eddy — La Fée
Anne Pashley — Le Prince Charmant
Ann Howard — Mme de la Haltière
Patricia Clark — Noémie
Patricia Reakes — Dorothée
Thomas Hemsley — Pandolfe
BBC Chorus and Concert Orchestra
Marcus Dods – conductor
Cendrillon can be downloaded by clicking on the icon of a square with an arrow pointing downward on the audio player and the resulting mp3 file will appear in your download directory.
Well over 100 “Trove Thursday” podcasts posted since the series began in September 2015 including La Cenerentola, Rossini’s setting of this same fairy tale, remain available from iTunes for free, or via any RSS reader.