By Mark Pullinger
09 June 2019
Picnic hamper packed? Champagne cooled? Ready for a spot of psychoanalysis, darling? There are enough references to dreams in Fiona Shaw’s Glyndebourne production of Cendrillon to give Sigmund Freud sleepless nights. Massenet’s charmer premiered at the Opéra Comique in 1899 – the same year as The Interpretation of Dreams was published – and Shaw lays Cinders on the couch to reveal a hefty dollop of wish fulfilment behind in an urban update to the fairy tale.
Shaw’s production was unveiled during last autumn’s tour, where it wasn’t universally adored, but the actor and director hasn’t returned to the Sussex Downs for this revival. Instead, Glyndebourne has brought in Fiona Dunn to revive and “direct for the festival” which implies significant tweaking, although the major elements of Shaw’s concept appear to have survived.
Cendrillon meets her child self – a mini-me – chalks up a hopscotch court and enters a dreamlike state where we’re not entirely sure what is real. Her stepmother, Madame de la Haltière, and her stepsisters are trashy vamps, shopaholics busy swiping on mobile phones and plastering on lipstick. A blue ballgown sparkles in a department store window – we know who’s destined to wear it – displayed alongside a plethora of shoes. As her family flounce off to the ball, Cendrillon asks herself, “Would you be jealous of a butterfly?” Cue flapping paper butterflies, a butterfly net and a fairy who has her encased, chrysalis-like, in a bodybag from which she emerges wearing the blue ballgown. It’s easy to see where Shaw is going with this.
What’s not so predictable is the twist Shaw throws into the staging regarding Prince Charming… unless you happen to spot Kate Lindsey early on as one of the maids helping Cinders to dress Mme de la Haltière and her ghastly offspring for the ball. Before they depart, they plant a paper bag as a crown on the head of this maid and take a sarcastic snap. But have they already planted a wish-fulfilling seed in Cendrillon’s subconscious? For when the prince finally appears, he is Lindsey as scowling pop idol, singing words mouthed by Cinders, reappearing as the maid once our heroine’s foot has fitted neatly into the glass slipper. It is not such a stretch; Charming is a mezzo trouser role, so why not bend the gender right round? Shaw’s key message is that you can find true love in unexpected places, sometimes that special one has been part of your life for some time.
Magic is sprinkled liberally across the staging, largely through the production team of Jon Bausor, Nicky Gillibrand and Anna Watson. The set consists of four giant prisms that rotate to create a dizzying hall of mirrors for Cendrillon’s encounter with the prince, or an oversize LED countdown to midnight or a silver birch forest for the moonlit love duet. Animated shadows of a horse and carriage are cast as Cinders is whisked to the ball.
There’s musical glitter too, Nina Minasyan truly dazzling as the Fairy Godmother with pinpoint stratospheric coloratura. Danielle de Niese is a wide-eyed Disney princess of a Cendrillon, floating high notes well, and her dusky, fluttery lower register continues to be seductive. Often sung by mezzos – Frederica von Stade and Joyce DiDonato have been some of the most famous exponents of the role – the title role was created by soprano Julia Guiraudon, so it’s interesting to hear de Niese reclaim it. Kate Lindsey’s honeyed mezzo could easily sing Cendrillon herself, but she sang Charming wonderfully, her lithe tone entwined with de Niese’s sugary soprano in ecstatic duets. I enjoyed Lionel Lhote’s put-upon Pandolfe (yes, Cinders’ dad is still very much alive in this version) but was less enamoured by Agnes Zwierko’s rasping stepmother.
John Wilson worked miracles in the pit. Massenet’s score can be heavy in places, yet Wilson made sure his singers were never swamped, aided by Glyndebourne’s superb acoustics and the dreamy playing of the London Philharmonic Orchestra. If you can take the Freudian psychoanalysis, this staging casts quite a spell.