In review: Massenet ‘Cendrillon’ at the RNCM

Image credit: Royal Northern College of Music

I’d like to start this post by wishing you all a very Happy New Year! Christmas has absolutely flown by and I can’t believe that Spring Term at the RNCM starts next week. I’ve been busy eating, resting and of course, preparing music for some very exciting upcoming projects, so watch this space…but for now, here’s a post looking back on the magical experience that was Massenet Cendrillon (Cinderella) at the RNCM!

Directed by Olivia Fuchs and under the baton of Martin André, Cendrillon was the 2017 winter production with RNCM Opera and featured the RNCM Chorus, Orchestra and two casts of soloists from the School of Vocal Studies and Opera (I was in the Blue cast). In addition to being my first full operatic role at the RNCM, Cendrillon was my first role in a foreign language – so I was able to put my undergraduate degree French skills to good use.

Photo credit: Robert Workman

In this version of the story, Cendrillon has a father, a step-mother and two ugly stepsisters; her real mother has died years previously and she and her father have moved from their beloved countryside to a bustling, wealthy town. The story follows the usual route until Cendrillon, realising she can never be a part of the Prince’s world, tries to end her life. The Fairy Godmother then unites Cendrillon and the Prince in a half-dream world, assuring them that they will be together one day. Months later, Cendrillon begins to think she really did dream everything, until news breaks that the Prince is looking for her. Aided for the final time by her Fairy Godmother, Cendrillon appears at the Court once more in her magical ballgown and is reunited with the lovesick Prince, much to the delight of the King and of Cendrillon’s stepmother, who now insists that she adores her daughter.

Music rehearsals started in September with Deputy Head of Opera Kevin Thraves and the following month we moved into Studio 6 to begin staging with Olivia, Martin and choreographer Bethan Rhys William. During this time, we also received in-depth French coaching from Edwige Herchenroder; as well as achieving correct pronunciation and fluency, we learnt how to employ the ‘accent d’insistence’ in French romantic opera and how to make use of Massenet’s own, very specific markings. Under the guidance of Olivia, Martin and the fabulous production team, both casts and chorus worked through the opera scene by scene and really got to know our characters, their stories, the details of their lives and the way they would think and behave. Massenet’s music is so well-written that is almost sang itself at times, which in turn made embracing our characters an even more enjoyable task.

Photo credit: Robert Workman

The set and costumes, beautifully designed by Yannis Thavoris, and the lighting, by Matt Haskins, created a breath-taking space that had at its centre a mirrored wall, representing the strong theme of self-reflection in the opera. Cendrillon’s ballgown was expertly crafted and made me feel like a princess – especially when twirling across the stage! There were stark contrasts in costume between garish and humble personalities and also between different worlds, the most noticeable probably being the Act III changes from the brightly coloured house of Madame de la Haltière to the enchanted space of the Fairy Godmother and finally to a stark hospital ward. However, one of my favourite elements of the show remains the Sprites dressed as Nuns on roller-skates! In addition of course to the flying ballgown, the poodle portraits, the glow-in-the-dark wigs and habits…the list is endless.

Cendrillon is one of the most exciting characters I have ever played; she is completely full of surprises. It was a joy to bring her to life and to feel her grow throughout the opera, from an innocent maid in her first entry to a strong and decisive woman by the end of the show. I especially liked Olivia’s concept of making both Cendrillon and the Prince relatable teenage characters in a world full of mad adult caricatures (you can read more about her concept in an RNCM interview by clicking here).

Photo credit: Robert Workman

Performances ran from December 6 until December 16; the Blue Cast had two shows under Martin André and one under RNCM Junior Fellow in Conducting Sergej Bolkhovets. It was a great pleasure to work with all involved and thanks and congratulations must go to everyone on the production team, the stage team and to all singers and instrumentalists in both casts and the orchestra. Thanks too must go to the wonderful audiences who came to support us every night and who sold us out on more than one occasion! This was a very special production and I was delighted to be a part of it.

“Clearly relishing her title role Caroline Taylor as Lucette, known as Cendrillon, excelled both in voice and acting prowess moving with grace. Looking elegant in her gorgeous evening dress and suitably demure in her adopted personality Taylor made a most credible downtrodden heroine who has found love with a handsome Prince. Reasonably bright with a light creamy tone the soprano doesn’t have a particularly large voice, but it’s a most attractive one. The coloratura requirements and high notes were satisfyingly achieved by Taylor displaying real promise […] Royally entertained by Olivia Fuchs’ Cendrillon the delighted Manchester audience supplied long and enthusiastic applause.”
(Michael Cookson, Seen and Heard International)

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