‘Cendrillon’: Not a traditional ‘Cinderella’ story

(Graphic by Catherine Eldridge)

The word “opera” often suggests massive sets, huge choruses and women wearing helmets with horns. Last weekend in Nichols Hall, “Cendrillon” proved none of that is necessary.

“Cendrillon” is a French opera by Pauline Viardot that tells the story of “Cinderella.” It is set in modern times and sung in English, making it more accessible to audiences unaccustomed to opera. There are even some twists that keep the story fresh and the audience guessing.

Performing the opera in the smaller Chapman Theatre rather than McCain Auditorium was a wise choice. The cast was only an ensemble of eight. The smaller theater allowed the voices to fill the space; the singing seemed effortless even as the cast tackled difficult passages.

David Mathes, senior in vocal music, as Le Prince Chamant was as handsome and charming as tradition demands. In one of the twists, he trades places with Le Comte Barigoule, played by Carter Keesecker, freshman in vocal music, so he can court Cendrillon as himself without his royal status getting in the way. Le Comte is also handsome and charming and has no trouble passing himself off as a prince.

Armelinde and Maguelonne, played by Catherine Stagner and Emma Curry, both seniors in vocal performance, are the stepsisters. They are not evil so much as extremely self-centered and irritating. In fact, most of their stage time is spent taking selfies. This pair has the highest notes in the opera, and they didn’t miss one.

Cendrillon’s father, Le Barone de Pictordu, played by Ethan Irons, senior in vocal performance, isn’t the traditional meek character either. He has a secret past and is recognized by Barigoule. Attention is drawn to the fact that he was not originally a baron, although it wasn’t made clear why this matters to the story. Irons plays the baron as tightly-laced but relaxes after his secret is revealed.

One of the most beloved characters in the story, Le Feé, also known as the Fairy Godmother, takes another step away from tradition. Paige Padgett, senior in vocal performance, became an audience-favorite the moment she bounced onto the stage in her lime green suit, fussy hat and black granny shoes. She wielded her magic with all the cheerfulness of a puppy. It was impossible not to smile when she was onstage. 

Alyssa Byers, senior in vocal performance, didn’t let anyone down with her performance as Cendrillon. She is not a passive victim; she helps her stepsisters because she wants to. She loves the prince because of who he is to her, not because he’s the prince. Most of all, she looks the part. Although it was somewhat disappointing that Le Feé did not execute a magical costume change onstage while getting Cendrillon ready for the ball, the disappointment was overshadowed by Byers’ breathtaking arrival. She was every inch the princess she was cast to be.

Sometimes old traditional stories can be told so often they lose their power, but “Cendrillon” brought back the magic. It was worth the ticket.