After opening its season with Puccini’s beautiful yet tragic “Tosca” and following up with Benjamin Britten’s somber “The Prodigal Son,” the Kentucky Opera moves to the lighter side of the genre with Jules Massenet’s “Cinderella.” Directed by John de los Santos, the opera follows the storyline from the classic fairy tale most know and love from the Disney animated classic—mean stepmother and stepsisters oppress a beautiful and sweet girl who is rescued by a charming Prince with the help of a fairy godmother and a forgotten glass slipper.
Backed by the Louisville Orchestra conducted by Emmanuel Plasson, the beautiful music and sumptuous costumes alone make “Cinderella” a delightful evening at the opera. But “Cinderella” is more than an archetypal love story that we already know will end with “happily ever after.” It’s legitimately funny (true story: you can laugh at the opera!), thanks to Cinderella’s henpecked father Pandolphe (Kevin Glavin’s powerful bass) and her stepsisters Noémie (Katy Lindhart) and Dorothée (Eliza Bonet), who aren’t exactly the brightest bulbs in the chandelier and who steal every scene they’re in. The opera’s studio artists Greg Jebaily (the Prime Minister), Adrian Smith (Master of Ceremonies) and Brad Raymond (the doddering Dean of the Faculty, a real ham of a role) also lend some levity to the Prince’s swooning lovelorn fits. Even the pompous stepmother Madame (Kathryn Cowdrick) is more ridiculous than frightening.
“Wicked” and “The Wizard of Oz” fans will recognize Glinda the Good’s foremother in Massenet’s fairy godmother (Angela Mannino), who travels by flying crescent moon. And the moments of true tenderness between Pandolphe and Cinderella (Ariana Chris) show us that her life isn’t completely devoid of love, so when she falls in love at first sight with Prince Charming (Claire Shackleton, a mezzo-soprano playing a pants role) it’s sweet, not the act of an unhappy girl desperate to leave home.
Massenet doesn’t let us forget that the Prince is facing marriage under considerable pressure from the King (Noel Bouley) and his court, a pressure the Prince tries to resist. And the fact that he is played by a woman adds another layer of complexity. Back in Massenet’s day, it may have been easier to suspend disbelief for a pants role, but it’s difficult in a contemporary context to not read Shackleton as she is—a young woman dressed as a young man, performing a masculine role. No worry, though, as both of these elements open the door for academics to apply a queer theory lens or even a feminist reading of the text. You know, if that’s how you enjoy a night at the opera. Ahem.
There’s one more performance of “Cinderella” on Sunday at 2 p.m. in the Brown Theatre.