La Scena Musicale

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Review: Massenet's Cendrillon at Koerner Hall


(top) Meghan Lindsay (Cendrillon) and Michael Ciufo (Prince Charming)
(bottom) Joelle Tan (Fairy Godmother)
Photos by Nicola Betts

















One of the pleasures of springtime in Toronto is the opera production from the Glenn Gould School of the Royal Conservatory of Music. This year, it is particularly momentous because for the first time, it is taking place in the spanking new Koerner Hall. Opened since last September, this venue boasts excellent sight lines and superb acoustics. Having heard a number of concerts there already, most recently the Canadian Chopin Competition Winners' Concert, I was eager to hear (and see) an opera production. This year, the GGS Opera is Jules Massenet's Cendrillon. To most opera buffs, when they think of Cinderella, it is usually Rossini's La Cenerentola, with Cendrillon a distant second, a real shame as there's some beautiful music in the Massenet score. Depending on the production, it can be either rollickingly funny or whimsical and touching. It's not performed very often, but quite remarkably, it is being done by both GGS-RCM as well as Opera de Montreal within a couple of months this spring! The last time I saw this piece was a screamingly funny Paris Opera production by Laurent Pelly. It was one of the more memorable nights in the theatre in recent years.

GGS operas are sung by advanced students earmarked for professional careers, and each year there are new voices to discover. Last year's Cosi, for example, featured two excellent sisters - Inga Fillipova-Williams as Fiordiligi and Wallis Giunta as Dorabella. I attended today's show expecting some fine singing and I was not disappointed. The principal roles are all double-cast. Today's performance was the "first cast" with a bunch of fresh, appealing voices. Top vocal honours today went to soprano Meghan Lindsay as Cendrillon, a role usually sung by a mezzo. She has lovely stage presence and sang with silvery tone, with an exquisite mezza voce. Partnering her was tenor Michael Ciufo. Darkly handsome and singing with bright sound, excellent French and ingratiating tone save for a few tight top notes, Ciufo was a fine Prince Charming, a role sometimes also taken by a mezzo. The big Act 3 duet between Lindsay and Ciufo was the highlight of the opera. As Madame de la Haltiere, Ramona Carmelly had the right comic flair and rich tone. Baritone Maciej Bujnowicz looked a bit too young to be the father, but he was an unusually sympathetic Pandolfe. Also noteworthy was the crystalline, soubrette tones of Joelle Tan as the Fairy Godmother - this fairy had no magic wand but held a crystal globe in her palm! The supporting roles were all cast from strength.

The production benefited from the more spacious staging area of Koerner Hall, compared to the old Mazzoleni Hall. The simple but stylish sets by Brent Krysa worked very well in this space - it's amazing what an archway, a few screens, a settee, and a fireplace mantel can do! The presence of balconies allowed the Fairy to deliver her ethereal lines in Act 3 from high above - an effective moment. The costumes are sumptuous, particularly when you consider this is a student production. However, a few wigs would have been nice to match the period costumes, particularly for Madame Haltiere. I must say I was expecting some belly laughs along the lines of the Laurent Pelly production I saw. But it didn't happen - director Graham Cozzubbo underplayed the comic moments and emphasized the more wistful and sad elements of the story. The lighting by Robert Thomson was particularly well executed, helping the story telling greatly. The orchestra under the expert direction of conductor Uri Mayer sounded really wonderful, even if a little too loud during climactic moments. There were even surtitles, although placed a bit too high and the text too small for the audience. All in all, a most enjoyable show. The last performance takes place on March 25

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