As I write, a real Cinderella story is being played out in the pages of the rabidly, sycophantically Royalist British press. Lowly commoner Meghan Markle has met her Prince Charming in the guise of Prince Harry. A tonic for the nation, you say. For me, I’d just be happy if a double gin went with that.
I mention this as I’m pondering what the less salubrious side of the media would have made of the ‘real’ Cinderella meeting her Prince Charming. The best I could come up with was ‘Scrubber nets Prince with Glass Slipper Con’. Though I’m happy to report that after last night’s brilliant performance of Massenet’s Cinderella (Cendrillon) at the Royal Northern College of Music (RNCM), it would be ‘Stunning scullery girl sings her way into the heart of a handsome prince (and the audience)’.
I’ve always enjoyed the student operas at RNCM and this production of Massenet’s masterful fairy tale was one of the best. It was touching, funny and light with a dark shade that would have made Disney turn in his cryogenically-frozen grave.
The story is well-known. Cinderella (Fiona Finsbury) is a maid of all work servicing the family of her father, Pandolfe (John Ieuan Jones), her evil stepmother, Madame de la Haltiere (Rebecca Berry) and two ugly sisters Noemie and Dorothee (Eliza Boom and Lucy Vallis). The household is readying itself for the ball which is to be attended by the King (Timothy Bagley) and the long-suffering melancholic Prince Charming (Michael Gibson). Overworked, Cinderella falls asleep and dreams of attending the dance. Her wish is granted by La Fee (Daniella Sicari) and her Sprites (Hannah Boxall, Lara Harvey, Lixin Liu, Ingvild Schultze-Florey, Leonie Maxwell and Lucy Temby). Awakened and dressed by the fairies, she is instructed that her glass slippers will protect her but that she must be home by midnight. Cinderella shall go to the ball.
Cinderella does, of course, win her Prince but the dark shade that Disney, in his 1950 film version, leaves out is her attempted suicide. Her recovery is aided by La Fee and her Sprites who, in a breath-taking piece of staging, glide onto the stage dressed as nuns wearing roller skates and illuminated coifs. The scene is rent in two by a mirrored wall and we witness the Prince bedridden by heartbreak and left only with a glass slipper to remind him of the love he lost at midnight and cannot find. On the other side, Cinderella hovers between life and death. They duet while remaining separated by the mirror as La Fee resolves to bring them together. It was one of the most moving scenes I have ever seen. It left me, and I’ll wager most of the audience, in tears.
The creative team of Olivia Fuchs (director), Yannis Thavoris (set and costume designer), Matt Haskins (lighting designer) and Bethan Rhys William (choreographer) brought a touch and a tone so perfect to an overpowering performance. A special mention must go to Kevin Thraves who has been noted in previous dispatches. His marshalling of the blistering and beautiful chorus set pieces was outstanding- you deserve a case of beer (gratuitous movie reference there).
It is difficult to single out individual performances in such a team effort but Fiona Finsbury, in the lead role, and Michael Gibson, a last minute super sub as her Prince, were brilliant together. The exemplary performance of the night must go to Daniella Sicari as La Fee. Her voice wowed an appreciative audience who cheered long and hard after the curtain fell. To everyone at RNCM, I can only say bravo and thank you. I will remember it forever.
By Robert Hamilton, Opera Correspondent
Cinderella (Cendrillon) is on at the Royal Northern College of Music until December 16, 2017.